At City Council, Laconia firefighters discuss overtime, MRI report and morale

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson told the City Council last night that soon after receiving a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and adding four firefighters, overtime hours during the July dropped by 16 percent.

However, Erickson cautioned that since the Laconia Professional Firefighters entered a new collective bargaining agreement, compensation has increased. "The amount of overtime has fallen, but the cost of overtime has risen," he said. At the same time, time lost to injuries also decreased. Erickson said there were 357 calls for service in July, nearly half of them back-to-back, but with the additional personnel firefighters recalled to duty only once, compared to 16 times during the same period a year ago.

Captain Kirk Beattie offered the council an outline of the steps the department has taken in response to the recommendations of Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, which presented its report on on its report on the department's organization and operations in March. He stressed that the firefighters themselves have taken "ownership" of the report and have begun to address its recommendations.

Beattie said that one of the most important initiatives is the reassessment of the department's core mission, in particular the future of the dive team. "This is one of the big issues," he said. Standard operating procedures are in the process of being rewritten, personnel are being trained to perform routine fire inspections and the Health and Safety Committee has been revived under the direction of Deputy Chief Deb Pendergast. With nine firefighters with fewer than two years and 16 with fewer than five years with the department, the training regimen has been strengthened under the supervision of shift officers, Beattie said.

Beattie acknowledged that the report questioned morale in the department, especially when negotiations with the city over a new collective bargaining agreement were at impasse. "Morale," he said, "is subjective" while conceding that morale improved with the ratification of the new contract. At the same time, he emphasized that the department averaged only four sick days a year per firefighter, which he took to signal good morale. "If morale wasn't good, they wouldn't be coming to work every day and doing a good job," Beattie said.