Voters in the Town’s March 10 election overwhelmingly supported Article 14, a citizen’s petition to hire four additional firefighters.
“It was very exciting to see the voters’ decision,” Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said. “This article was put together to hire additional firefighters to address the needs of the community with the influx in calls and simultaneous calls, as well as the Town’s increase in calls for mutual aid.”
O’Brien expressed concern with the amount of time it will take another community to respond to an emergency in Londonderry, saying “the citizens of this Town deserve better than that,” and the Article supporting four additional firefighters is “just a stepping stone.”
In a letter “to the Citizens of Londonderry,” Firefighter’s Union President Bo Butler thanked voters for “putting public safety first.
“You sent a very clear message,” he wrote. “You heard us. You listened to us. You gave us the opportunity to educate you and stayed open to it. You asked the hard questions and stayed actively involved and dedicated to us. You stood behind us and supported us. When we needed you the most, the community of Londonderry, as she does so very well, rallied around us by putting your voice to task.”
With a margin of nearly 800 votes, the Article passed with a vote of 1,866 in favor to 1,078 against.
But the Warrant Article requires only that the Town raise and appropriate $263,143 for the purpose of adding staff to the Fire Department. Ultimately, the Town Manager decides whether or not to hire the additional firefighters, Town Manager Kevin Smith confirmed.
“All the Articles are always advisory only,” he said.
“That’s, unfortunately, what I was trying to explain to people,” Town Councilor Joe Green said. “Unfortunately, all this was, was a way to increase their budget. It does not mean we have to hire firefighters. All it means is we’re increasing the budget by that amount, and it has to be spent from the Fire Department’s coffers. I’m in favor of more firefighters; in fact, I think we need more than four. I think we need six.”
Green said that if the Town and Firefighter’s Union are able to address the issue of overtime, the Town will be able to hire the number needed and increase safety for the firefighters employed by the Town.
“Overtime never should have been part of the payroll. We need to sit at the table and make negotiations happen because it’s unfair the firefighters are working without a contract and they haven’t gotten their Cost of Living raises for three years. They work hard,” he said.
Green said he supports the firefighters, noting they saved his mother’s life. But he wants to see the overtime costs at a realistic level so that the Town can hire as many firefighters as are needed.
Smith said in determining whether or not to hire additional firefighters moving forward, he weighs the advice of the Council, the needs of the Fire Department he manages, and the will of the people.
“The voters have spoken, and they wanted four firefighters; so, they’re willing to pay for the tax increase to get it,” Councilor Tom Freda said. “Had it been defeated, I would not have supported hiring against the will of the people.”
“The article passed by a pretty healthy margin. I don’t see this becoming a contentious issue down the road. I’m fairly confident there will be a resolution where all expectations are being met,” Smith said. “The Town did speak and two-thirds said they want more firefighters.”