Published DateLACONIA — Close on the heels of consultant's report that the Fire Department is understaffed and a recommendation to add eight firefighters during the next three years, the City Council last night unanimously agreed to reapply for a federal grant to fund the cost of four additional firefighters for two years, which it rejected by a four-to-two vote in January.
City Manager Scott Myers advised the council that there was no assurance that the grant awarded but rejected in January would be available in April. However, Fire Chief Ken Erickson said he was "optimistic" about receiving the grant, noting that the department's original application scored very highly and the funds have not been distributed.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is intended to shorten response times and expand suppression capability while reducing the risk of injury to firefighters. Apart from the cost of outfitting the firefighters with turnout gear and equipping them with handheld radios, estimated at about $15,000, the grant would fund their salaries, overtime and benefits for two years, with no requirement to retain them when the funding was exhausted.
Initially the majority of councilors expressed concern that once the grant expired, there was no assurance the city would have the means to retain the additional personnel. Deputy Chief Deb Pendergast, who prepared the grant application, said it was submitted with the expectation that a plan to maintain the increased staffing would be developed.
Meanwhile, last month Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, which the Cty Council commissioned to review coverage, overtime and scheduling at the Fire Department, issued its report, featuring the recommendation to hire four firefighters in 2014 and two in each of the next two years. MRI suggested the council reapply for the SAFER grant.
MRI offered three options for deploying the additional personnel, which which would spare between 47 percent and 92 percent of the increased cost by trimming overtime. The report claims the service would be improved by enabling the department to provide two fire companies and two medical units during each shift and eliminating the need for overtime to offset the first absence on each shift. Apart from the issue of overtime, MRI concluded that given the risks and experience of fire in the city the department should be expanded to support two fire companies of three apiece and two medical units of apiece, representing a shift of 10. "This pattern of incremental resource increases should continue through the remainder of the decade," the report continues.
NOTE: The City Council agreed to curtail the collection of Christmas trees. City Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) said that the suggestion originated with a constituent who found it inefficient for a driver and truck to ply the streets in search of trees to collect. Instead, he proposed that residents truck take their trees to one of the four remote recycling sites — at Messer Street, Memorial Park, Lakeport Fire Station and Weirs Community Center — where they could be picked up en masse. City Manager Scott Myers said that the time spent collecting trees could be applied to other projects and offered to solicit ideas from the general public and city staff. Former Councilor Niel Young raised the issue when Lipman and several of his colleagues were guests on Young's radio program on March 23.