Last week city aldermen approved a request from Fire Chief Dan Goonan for a 32 percent increase — or more than $15 — in the hourly rate charged for fire details requested or required by private or public organizations, but not without voicing concerns about the effect the price hike could have on businesses.
According to Goonan, the department currently charges $48.11 per hour per detail, with a four-hour minimum required. A survey of other departments around the state shows Manchester is on the low end in terms of rate charged. Gilford, Salem and Bedford each charge $60 per hour, Londonderry, Tilton and Laconia are at $65, and Concord charges a state-high $77 per hour.
According to Goonan, a fire detail may be required for cutting and welding operations, demolition operations, gatherings where candles are in use “and other purposes where the fire marshal deems it necessary for life safety.” Goonan said events at the SNHU Arena also require fire details to be present.
The new fire detail rate as approved by the full board last week will be $63.54, effective May 1.
Last week Alderman At-Large and board chairman Dan O’Neil sent an email to Goonan saying he was approached by several people asking questions about the cost hike after this column reported on the request.
“I am not opposed to an increase in the rate,” O’Neil wrote. “It needs to be reasonable. The increase suggested is significant. Some of the activities you listed that would require a detail are not weekly or even monthly, such as for cutting and welding safety. For those activities, there would be minimal impact. I am concerned about the negative impact that this significant increase could have on the event/conference/sports facilities in our city.”
O’Neil points out those events bring “thousands upon thousands of people to Manchester” each year, who in turn spend money in the city.
“Jobs in Manchester rely on people visiting the city,” O’Neil wrote. “I think back to the American Legion state conference earlier this year that brought many folks to downtown Manchester to stay in the Center of NH, hold meetings and dinners at the hotel and, I am guessing, spent money in our downtown. Event planners, host committees, etc., have options on whether to schedule a conference or show in Manchester. I would not want this increase to be a deterrent to events coming to Manchester.”
Goonan reports his department’s detail rate of $48.11 was set in January 2013. He said he calculated his proposed rate increase using the FY19 YD Senior Firefighter (Grade 17, Step 14) overtime hourly rate of $46.38, plus fringe benefits and a $1.70 administrative fee that goes into the general fund.
By comparison, Manchester police officers receive the following hourly rates based on the type of detail: $43.36 regular detail, $46.95 club details, $65.04 after 8 hours and $116 on holidays, plus fringe benefits and a $1.70 administration fee.
According to Goonan, firefighters annually work an average of fewer than 40 detail hours per week as a group, compared to city police working an average of 1,050 per week as a group, based on 2017 data.
Goonan said prior to submitting his request to aldermen, his department contacted several of the current detail vendors, including SNHU Arena.
“They understood our position,” writes Goonan in an email to board members. “I believe my request is reasonable and do not think it will have a negative impact on any events/conferences/sporting events scheduled in our city.”
O’Neil responded by reiterating his concerns about the effect the detail hike could have on such events.
“I do know that event planners and promoters look at all costs to put on the event,” O’Neil wrote. “Unlike police details for utility or construction projects that those costs are passed on to all ratepayers or are included in the construction financial plan, the details at (these events) are passed on to the user, who then pass on to attendee or person who purchases the ticket.”
O’Neil said he spoke with representatives of the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown Hotel, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the SNHU Arena.
“All three facilities have contracts in place that are affected,” O’Neil said.
According to O’Neil, DoubleTree hotel has conferences and events that have already been booked, and any immediate increase would be paid for by the hotel and could not be passed on to those who have booked events and conferences.
The Fisher Cats have an agreement with a vendor in place for 26 games that will feature fireworks at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, and each of these games require fire details.
O’Neil said SNHU arena has contracts in place for concerts and shows and “can’t go back to the promoters with additional costs so they would have to cover the increase themselves.”
“It would also impact coverage at Monarch games as well as state high school hockey championships and all the high school graduations,” O’Neil said. “The arena would have to absorb those costs themselves.”
O’Neil said none of the people he spoke with at these venues opposed the increase.
“The issue that they all had was that they had no prior notification of the increase and could not plan and include in contracts,” O’Neil said.
Goonan defended the increase, telling board members his request didn’t involve a pile of money.
“The Fisher Cats, just for example, for all of next season we are talking an increase of $1,500,” Goonan said. “That’s how small an amount of money we are talking about. We are way low in the state. This is what’s fair — what’s fair for the vendors and what’s fair for my men. At some point, I believe this is being micro-managed.”
“The amount, $63.54, falls within the range of what we’re seeing with other communities,” Mayor Joyce Craig said. “I think one thing we can take away is that in the future, communication is key.”
Aldermen approved the increase effective May 1, with additional rate hikes annually each fiscal year, equal to cost-of-living increases in fire union contracts.
In other words, there will be an additional detail rate increase of 2 percent next summer on July 1, and another 2 percent increase on July 1, 2020.
Goonan said early feedback on the “active shooter” exercise held at the SNHU Arena Nov. 28 has been “very positive.”
The multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional exercise included more than 225 participants representing more than 21 organizations, including police, fire, EMS, hospital staff, controllers, evaluators and volunteers. Two years of planning for the exercise began with a grant application to N.H. Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Goonan said.
“A lot of hard work and dedication by the planning committee allowed this drill to come to fruition,” said Goonan.
Over the next two months, fire personnel will work with representatives of The Olsen Group, the vendor that oversaw and planned the drill, to gather feedback from participants to create an “after-action report,” Goonan said. That report will be shared with city aldermen next year, likely in late February or early March.
This week Craig is traveling with Goonan and other city officials to Nashville, Tenn., to participate in the Mayors Institute on Opioids City Team Cohort Meeting. According to Craig, this is the second gathering of cities selected to participate in a yearlong program offering an opportunity to discuss approaches to tackling the opioid epidemic.
Manchester was one of six cities from across the country chosen earlier this year to participate.
City officials expect to return to Manchester on Wednesday.
Congratulations go out to Alderman O’Neil, who was recently inducted into the Manchester Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame.
Manchester Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, the dean of the Senate, appeared at last week’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to present O’Neil with a resolution celebrating the honor.