Published Date Written by Barbara Tetreault"It's a stark reality," he told Fire Chief Randall Trull and Assistant Fire Chief Thaddeus Soltys at Monday's budget meeting. "This year it's probably not likely we will fund the two positions".
In his budget request, Trull actually asks for increasing the force by two positions. Currently there are two shifts of five firefighters and two shifts of four firefighters. But Trull said in actuality, the department runs with an initial response crew of four because two of the current positions are floaters who fill in for firefighters out sick or on vacation.
He said cutting two positions would definitely reduce the department's effectiveness in providing service to the city. He said a minimum of four firefighters is needed to respond to a structure fire and five is ideal. Reducing the staffing level below four on duty increases the risk to fire fighters. Trull said some of the injuries firefighters have had are because they are forced to multi-task at fires.
"I certainly don't recommend laying off staff," Trull said.
The chief said the city is blessed with an excellent fire department but noted the average age on the force is 40. As the workforce ages, he wrote that the possibility of injury in a high-risk public safety job increases as well. Two firefighters are expected to retire in 2014.
Trull said the city still has a lot of fires. In fiscal 2012, the department responded to 399 calls for service. There were 16 structural fires, an increase of four percent. Almost half of the calls were for residential properties.
The chief said the department did not request increases in other areas of the budget to focus on its priority of safe staffing levels.
In addition to the career staff, the department has a 13-member call department. Members of the call force receive $20 a month for attending training and are paid hourly per call. Trull said the majority of call members have full time jobs that impact their ability to respond to fires.
Members of the regular and call department completed over 1,500 hours of certification training in the last fiscal year. The department received an $18,000 grant to cover the cost of specialized training.
On the prevention side, Trull continues to use state statute to force property owners to remove fire damaged and dilapidated buildings. This year, he is working on 155B orders for six properties.
Soltys said the department conducted 140 inspections in fiscal 2012 and considerable time has been spent in recent months identifying shortcomings in the inspection program. The manager's budget shows the department collected $9,174 in inspection fees in fiscal 2012. Soltys said he projects the department will generate almost $16,000 in fiscal 2014 just from inspections of multi-family buildings. Grenier said inspection revenues as not as high as he would like but noted they are increasing.
Councilor Roland Theberge and Mike Rozek commended the department. Rozek said he is proud of the force and recognizes the officers work hard. Theberge said he appreciates the department's efforts to get grants.
Grenier said the council is telling all city departments to tighten their budgets. He noted the school department was asked to come back with a flat budget and the police commission was instructed to cut its budget by about $125,000. He suggested departments develop standard operating procedures to operate with reduced budget.
"This is really crunch time," Grenier said.