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Staffing, equipment decisions made for potential Northfield department

December 23, 2009
NORTHFIELD — A theoretical Northfield Fire Department is slowly coming to fruition as the Fire Service Committee continues to nail down potential staff numbers, equipment and budgetary figures to determine whether it would be feasible to break off from the Tilton-Northfield Fire District.

The committee met last week after their previous weekly meeting was cancelled due to snow. Right off the bat, committee Vice Chair Steve Bluhm, acting as chair for an absent Deb Shepard, said that two staffing situations are off the table the department could not be all-volunteer or all on-call.

"It's not gonna happen," Bluhm said.

The committee agreed that four full-time firefighter/EMTs would be necessary.

"I think 12 hour days would be the way to go," committee member Dina Waldron said, pointing out that 12-hour shifts would provide coverage for incidents right before and after work, when on-call firefighters would be less likely to respond.

"The best way to secure our community is a 12-hour shift," committee member Gretchen Wilder agreed.

Committee member Charlie Harris compiled a staffing list that he thought would provide adequate coverage. He agreed with the four full-time firefighter/EMTs and also suggested a part-time chief, a call deputy chief, 16 call firefighters, six call EMTs, and a part-time secretary.

"I think 6 EMTs is low," said Waldron, who is a paramedic.

Waldron suggested they shoot for at least 12 on-call EMTs to prevent burnout.

Bluhm said it would be best to present voters with more than what they will likely need in terms of staffing, equipment and a budget, so that if the measure does pass, it won't mean coming back year after year and asking for more positions or equipment.

"I don't want to play that game," he said.

Someone raised the question of whether it would be possible to get enough on-call personnel to meet their needs.

"Our hope is that our on-call department can go back to five years ago, and that if they are available, they'll want to go on call," Bluhm said. "That's the hope that we can go back to, hey they need me, I'll go."

Another concern was whether a part-time fire chief would be adequate. Ultimately the committee decided to create a budget for each scenario, as the members couldn't come to a consensus. Some felt there wouldn't be enough work for a full-time chief and that it would cost too much after salary and benefits; others thought there would be too much work for a part-time chief and that a full-timer would bring more cohesion to the department.

"There's a lot of responsibility that goes along with it," said Fire Commissioner Paul Auger, who was sitting in the audience. "You step up a whole level with a full-time chief."

If they were to go with a full-time chief, the committee members agreed the chief would have to "fill a lot of voids." He would have to be hands on and would cover for anyone out sick or on vacation.

As for equipment, the committee agreed that the department would need two engines but debated whether a tanker would be necessary.

"I would think we would need a tanker," Waldron said.

It was pointed out that Tilton may not want the tanker that currently belongs to the Tilton-Northfield Fire District.

"We'll get it in the divorce," Wilder joked.

After tentatively agreeing on staffing and equipment needs, the committee worked on budget development. This work will continue at the next Fire Service Committee meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 30, at Northfield Town Hall.

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