Londonderry Fire Department says too many shifts go unfilled
Firefighter Bruce Hallowell told the Town Council that though the department currently schedules 10 staff members for each shift, the reality is that unplanned sick or vacation leave often leaves as few as seven staffers working a shift.
Fire officials said having 10 personnel members on duty is the minimum needed to operate the town's three fire stations, amounting to roughly one firefighter on duty for every 2,427 of the town's residents.
"If we remove one or two of those 10, and we do have a nasty habit of dropping down that way, we're left with no ability to serve the public when a second call comes in," Hallowell said.
"Fire damage is irreversible, and time is our enemy," Hallowell added. "You can't ask someone to schedule his or her 911 calls and dropping below ten personnel puts us all at risk."
The fire chief said it would cost an additional $204,000 to fund overtime pay needed to fill shift vacancies at times when the staffing level drops below 10 firefighters.
Such requests are approved on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the fire chief.Town Manager Tom Freda said the fire department usually overspends its overtime budget, as has been the case for the past several years.In 2007 overtime costs were about $16,000 over budget. By 2012, overtime costs had increased more than sevenfold, at $120,000.
"This change isn't necessarily to blame, but it is a contributor to the overtime issue we have now," Councilor Tom Dolan said. "And I think the best way to address it is through the collective bargaining process, because I just don't see how we can address this via the operating budget."
"To fund the (staff) replacement line item appropriately, we need another $204,000," Butler said.
Further discussions on the budget will take place Jan. 20, when the second public budget hearing is scheduled. The Town Council and the Budget Committee will hold budget warrant vote on Jan. 23.