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Fire Department budget faces significant increases

November 18, 2009
Although the main Fire Department budget is up by 9.5 percent at an additional $155,949, the Budget Committee has agreed to approve the budget for now since the expanded proposals focus mostly on safety needs.

The increase in the $1,797,448 budget is due to wages, retirement funds, and capital expenditures. Full time wages have gone up by 3.9 percent at $27,970. Committee member Dale Dormody explained that the need for new self-contained breathing equipment and the renovation of the department's 1992 rescue tuck contributed to higher numbers as well.

The part-time fire inspector's numbers have also increased, since his hours have increased from 20 to 32 hours per week, leaving part-time wages at 12.2 percent over the last year. Chair of the Budget Committee Dick Hickok said he did not understand the need for additional pay at first, but realized that the inspector was in higher demand.

Deputy Chief John Beland assured the committee that when permit fees were collected, the department made out better than anticipated with their part-time employee. Chief James Hayes added that the fire inspector also does not take advantage of benefits, although retirement benefits are not an option.

Overtime is also up at 4.4 percent or $5,024, said Dormody, but changes have been made to ensure this line item stays where it is. Beland explained that overtime entails "call back" hours, which have now been limited to a one-hour minimum.

"Call backs allow for firefighters and those off-duty to come back to help. We were able to save a significant amount of money. There are 12 admirable firefighters affected by this. They stepped up to the plate," said Beland.

Equipment maintenance and ambulance supplies are up by 36.1 percent and 56 percent, respectively. Dormody explained that this portion of the budget is particular to the department because they require mandated technical skill courses in an ever-changing field in order to maintain "proficiency" and certification.

Equipment included fire hose testing under NFPA standards, an annual requirement. Beland said new fire hoses may be needed, even after repairs since a lot of the hoses burst during training sessions, a blunder they would like to avoid in real emergencies. They constantly break and melt through, said Beland.

LRGH has provided ambulance supplies at no chargeback in the past, but this year they have discontinued their contributions and the department must buy their equipment from them for a $4,460 increase.

Committee member John O'Brien brought up the concept of purchasing a private ambulance service, similar to Belmont and Meredith. Hickok suggested outside costs may be more cost effective, but the board concluded that they would not receive much revenue for one town since they could not spread out overhead costs.

Hayes explained that private ambulance services are used primarily for profits, and secondarily for transportation.

"You are better served with your own people and you save more money with your own services. It doesn't cover it (the cost of the ambulance)," said Hayes, who added they would still have to figure in the percentage of jobs performed.

"It is not a profit center until you get into a large group," said Financial Director Geoff Ruggles. "It is expense vs. revenue."

The Fire Department is also looking to purchase more safety equipment under special projects at a 100-percent increase this year, and to supply ten call-company members with personal escape devices that could potential save their lives for $4,000, said Beland.

There are two significant capital expenditures coming up, said Dormody, including capital vehicles at $85,000 (offset by a $60,000 CRF withdrawal), and capital equipment at $2,500, which would cover the 1992 rescue truck restoration.

Instead of purchasing a new rescue truck, the department would like to restore their old truck, said Dormody, to utilize for about 10 more years. They plan to change the design of storage for easier access to equipment, to upgrade an on-board generator for efficient lighting, and address corrosion problems.

Beland added that their other cheapest option would be purchasing 6-year younger, 1998 truck that would cost $160,000, which does not include additional maintenance, at about $180,000 in all. He added that their current trunk has only been offered a mere $20,000 in trade and it would not be worthwhile to purchase another vehicle.

Under capital equipment the department also plans to run an annual lease (over a period of three years) until they own their leased safety equipment. Self contained breathing apparatuses for firefighters top the list for equipment needs since the current equipment is 5 years old and tends to malfunction, said Beland, who emphasized the importance of safety for his employees.

The Budget Committee also approved the additional Fire Department budgets for Emergency Management at $3,400, Fire Protection or Municipal Water at $48,821, and Forestry at $6,141.

Town of Alexandria
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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