By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — The Board of Selectmen is expected to appoint a committee to study regionalization of the fire and emergency medical services when it meets on Wednesday, July 20.
Town administrator Charlie Smith said Monday that six residents — Roger Grey, Dave Nickerson, David DeVoy, Evelyn Auger, Steve Ober and Andy Sanborn — have offered to serve on the committee together with Fire Chief Paul Dexter.
The initiative traces its origins to Town Meeting in March, when voters soundly rejected a warrant article that would have appropriated $135,000 for the salary and benefits of two firefighters/EMTs. 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.
During the debate, Nickerson, then the outgoing chairman of the Board of Selectmen who voted not to recommend the article, told voters that the Tilton-Northfield Fire & EMS Department was building a new station.
"There is an opportunity here," he said, suggesting that Sanbornton could join in a regional department. "The door is open to talk to Tilton-Northfield before jumping into hiring two firefighters."
Selectman Johnny Van Tassel discounted the prospects of a regional department, but DeVoy, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, countered that "regionalization can happen as fast as the selectmen want it to happen."
Although there were informal conversations between town officials and members of the Tilton-Northfield Fire Commission, no specific negotiations have taken place.
Dexter said Monday that he is more than happy to participate in the work of the committee, but hastened to note that as a member of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association, which includes 35 municipalities in the region, the Sanbornton Fire Department is already regionalized. He pointed out that apart from the chief, Sanbornton has no full-time fighters and therefore little to offer a neighboring department in a regional partnership.
Dexter said that as the only full-time firefighter/EMT in the department, his challenge is to ensure the daytime shift from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which represents about a third of the department's call volume and when call fighters are often not immediately available, is properly staffed seven days a week. He questioned how a regional arrangement address this issues, especially since Sanbornton, with its area, 47.3 square miles compared to the 40 square miles of Tilton and Northfield together, is such a large area to cover.
DeVoy said he expects the committee will explore all the options, including the cost of having a neighboring department provide daytime coverage for the town compared to that of adding full-time firefighter/EMTs to the Sanbornton Department.
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