Granite State News - Online - October 18, 2001
©2001 Salmon Press, Inc.
Fire/Rescue Dept. critically understaffed
By CHERYL McCARRISTON
WOLFEBORO — The Wolfeboro Fire-Rescue Department is facing a shortage of personnel, including both full-time firefighters and call firefighters.
Fire-Rescue Chief Ben Bean said the situation “is a real cause of concern,” and has presented Town Manager Paul Skowron with several recommendations.
Currently the department is struggling to maintain full coverage for each of its three 24-hour shifts. Full coverage entails having two people on each of the three shifts, typically one firefighter and one lieutenant. Each person provides station coverage for two shifts each week, for a normal 48-hour work week.
However, the Fire-Rescue Department lacks the necessary full-time firefighters to fill the six shift positions.
Currently there are seven full-time firefighter positions. Of these, two are administrative positions, namely the chief and deputy chief. That leaves five firefighters to fill six shift positions.
A combination of events contributed to the open firefighter slot.
In December 1999, Firefighter James Dearborn, Sr. retired. The following year, Philip “Butch” Morrill was promoted from a lieutenant to the newly-created position of deputy fire chief. Since that time, there has been an open slot for a full-time firefighter.
Town officials supported filling the sixth full-time positions which were funded in the proposed 2001 town budget. However, when voters defeated the town budget last March, the constraints of a default budget prohibited the hiring of a full-time firefighter.
Chief Bean is striving to provide full coverage on each shift, by paying full-time firefighers overtime and by utilizing call firefighters.
Two firefighters, Lt. Tom Zotti and James Dearborn, Jr., reported they habitually work overtime, often working 60 hours per week, and sometimes as many as 80-100 hours.
They said working excessive hours constitutes a safety issue. “It’s not safe for a person working and not safe for a person expecting a response,” said Zotti.
Trying to fill vacant shift positions with call firefighters is also getting more difficult. Where there was once a pool of about a dozen, Bean said there are now three to four call personnel available.
Usually call personnel have full-time jobs, and are therefore limited to when they can cover a shift. Daytime shifts are normally harder to fill with a call person, than is a nighttime shift or weekend shift.
Although the department has a recruiting effort each year for call firefighters, the chief said, “We lose them faster than we recruit them.”
Also complicating the shift coverage is the fact that many of the firefighters have thousands of hours of leave available to them. And many with extended leave time are taking those hours.
This is due in part to the fact that effective Jan. 1, 1999 the town of Wolfeboro changed its written policy so that employees working 40 hours per week will receive a maximum of only 400 hours of paid leave at the time of their resignation.
Despite all the efforts by Bean, data collected by the Fire-Rescue Department from Aug. 10 to Oct. 9, shows more than a dozen lapses in shift coverage. Each shift is broken down into a daytime segment from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and a night segment from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
During the two-month period, there were nine times that a daytime shift was short one person and twice that a night shift was short one person. In addition, there were three instances where a full shift (daytime and night) was short one person.
Finally, on Oct. 5, a Friday, there were two people short for a full shift, meaning there was no coverage at the fire station.
Bean said that, with the shortage of coverage at the station, the single firefigher on duty often calls mutual aid to assist with the call, depending on the type of call.
Wolfeboro is a member of the Ossipee Valley Mutual Aid Association and Wolfeboro often gives or receives aid from the member departments including Tuftonboro, Ossipee Corner and Wakefield. In addition, Wolfeboro assists and receives aid from the departments of Middleton, New Durham and Alton, members of Lakes Region Mutual Aid.
Bean said that, with less shift coverage now, “We’re calling mutual aid more than in the past.”
He also pointed out the number of calls continues to rise each year, with the department currently averaging 2.5 calls per day. So far this year, the department has responded to 705 calls and will likely surpass the 763 calls it logged last year.
The population of Wolfeboro continues to grow as well, contributing to the increased number of calls for emergency services. Using figures from the U.S. Census, the NH Office of State Planning indicates Wolfeboro’s population has grown to 6,083, a 26.5 percent increase since 1990.
Figures from a February 2001 report prepared by the Lakes Region Planning Commission show Wolfeboro is growing by leaps and bounds. The report shows the rate of residential development in Wolfeboro from 1990 to 1999 is 12.5 percent, higher than the average rate of 31 towns in the Lakes Region study.
Despite the growing population which includes a considerable percentage of elderly and retired people as well as construction of several assisted living facilities, the number of full-time firefighters providing shift coverage has not changed since 1992.
Although Bean has not yet submitted his 2002 budget proposal, he has met with Skowron to discuss ways to remedy the shortage of personnel.
Bean has already cancelled leave time for the firefighters. He will grant leave time only if the firefighter can get someone to work the shift for him.
His first recommendation is to hire a full-time firefighter to fill the sixth shift position. However, Bean will also be proposing in his budget to fund three additional firefighters to maintain three firefighters on each shift. He is recommending these firefighters be hired for April 1, 2002.
The chief said having three on each shift will result in a minimum of two on duty seven days a week, 365 days a year. Hiring the additional firefighters will assure adequate coverage when a firefighter takes leave time for sickness, injury, or vacation time.
Bean is also considering implementing mandatory overtime to insure full shift coverage, even though he’d “prefer to cover it with voluntary shift coverage.”
Finally, Bean is proposing to hire three more firefighters in 2003.
The chief explained the minimum number of responders is five per fire call, which can include a mix of full-time firefighters and call personnel.
“We’re very short,” said Bean. He said there are fewer people responding to everyday incidents. “For major fire calls, we’re more successful.”
Bean said there’s always a safety issue. “But the risk is higher with less persons to respond.”
[ 10-23-2001: Message edited by: 9C7 ]
Sounds like they need more people...Question -- Why are Cities and Towns that have career staffing so hesitant to hire the proper staffing ? I see this all over the country....Just wondering :confused:
To answer your question simply.
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We have several small towns around here where I live (Just South of the N.H> border) and the town residents adn more specifically, the town selectmen, don;t want their taxes to increase. These are the first people to bitch though when the truck isn't there fast enough for their liking, though all the towns do a pretty damned good job on getting out the door, still around 3 - 4 minutes for a combination department after hours. They all seem to think and I quote "Aren't there 10 of you guys sitting at the station waiting to get a call?"
I think a lot of it is that a lot of people move out of the bigger cities, her it is Worcester and Boston, and are used to 24 / 7 coverage and think that they are getting it when they move to these small bedroom communities that are growing faster than they can support. :rolleyes: