By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — Voters will again be asked to add two full-time firefighter/EMTs to a department staffed by on-call and per diem personnel, which Fire Chief Paul Dexter said is increasingly hard pressed to ensure the town of the emergency services it requires. A year ago, the proposal fell just four votes short of the required majority.
"We schedule according to the availability of our members," Dexter, the lone full-time member of the department, said Tuesday, "not the needs of the community or the department. I can't tell my volunteers when to work."
A proposed warrant article requests $135,200 for the salary and benefits of the two firefighter/EMTs, which would increase the department's operating budget by more than a third. The additional personnel would enable the department to staff a 12-hour daytime shift from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week, with one full-time firefighter/EMT and one part-time per diem firefighter/EMT. Dexter said that ideally he would like to hire two full-time firefighter/paramedics.
Dexter explained that currently the department runs four shifts: a daytime shift from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; an evening shift from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; a nighttime shift 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., and a morning shift from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. He said that the department can guarantee coverage only for the daytime and nighttime shifts and even then only one per diem firefighter/EMT and the chief or the chief alone may be on duty during the day.
The morning and evening shifts, when on-call firefighters are leaving and returning from work — often from outside the town — may or may not be staffed. Together these shifts represent nearly a third of the department's call volume. "Our response time on these shifts may be 20 or 30 minutes," Dexter said, adding that "30 minutes for a cardiac patient is death."
About half of all calls for service, the overwhelming majority for medical emergencies, occur during the daytime shift, a reflection of the aging demographic of the town. Dexter said that while Sanbornton has always been predominantly a residential community, it has increasingly become a retirement community as seasonal second homes have been converted to year-round primary residences by older homeowners.
"We're seeing more slips, trips and falls as well as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)," Dexter said. "people who are really sick and need to go to the hospital. It's not the overuse of emergency medical services."
Dexter said that last year he predicted "a landslide either way" and was surprised by the margin of four votes and this year has simply sought to make the best case based on the numbers.
The Board of Selectmen recommended the warrant article with Karen Ober and Johnny Van Tassel voting in favor and chairman Dave Nickerson dissenting, while the Budget Committee recommended against it.
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