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Laconia Fire 'running short' on rare occassions; union says 'safety' at issue

LACONIA — Although the Fire Department increases its staff by four firefighters this year, Chief Ken Erickson said this week that he has chosen to "run short," or not necessarily fill every vacancy on daytime shifts, during September, October, November April and May, which experience indicates are the slowest months of the year, in an effort to manage the cost of overtime.
Earlier this year the department received a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund four additional firefighters for two years. The grant is intended to shorten call response times and expand fire suppression capability while reducing the risk of injury to firefighters by increasing the personnel on each shift from eight to nine.
Erickson said that the decision to "run short" was "my prerogative," and stressed that the department would operate at full strength, with nine firefighters per shift, at night and on weekends as well as around the clock during the busiest months of the year. He said that since introducing the practice, only four shifts have run short. However, he noted that contrary to expectations, November was a very busy month with 354 calls for service, including a rash of suspicious fires, compared to 262 calls in the same month a year ago, which led to so called "recalls" of personnel.
"I don't like running down," Erickson said. "If I tell you I need nine; I need nine all the time." With a full shift, he explained, three trucks can easily be on the street at the same time.
The chief said that since the additional firefighters enabled him to increase each shift from eight to nine, response times have improved 20 percent, recalls have decreased significantly and the number of injuries have been reduced. "We're doing better work," he said.
Nevertheless, Captain Chris Shipp, who in July became president of the Laconia Professional Firefighters, expressed concern about running short while insisting that "as far as staffing goes, the chief and I are on the same page."
"It's a big deal for us," Shipp said. "When somebody is out they need to be replaced. It's a safety issue — the safety of the public and the safety of the firefighters." In particular, Shipp said that when a shift is trimmed from nine to eight, its ability to handle multiple calls for service is diminished. With five firefighters at Central Station and three at the Weirs Beach Station, he said that a severe medical call requiring four firefighters would leave only one to respond to the next call.
Shipp emphasized that the purpose of the SAFER grant is to ensure adequate staffing, not to reduce overtime. "In my opinion, using the grant to cut overtime would be a misuse of the funds."
City Manager Scott Myers agreed that the purpose of the grant was not to reduce overtime, but said that Erickson's decision to run short reflected his best judgement of how to manage the resources and budget of his department. He recalled that a year ago, when there were eight firefighters on each shift, running short led to "brown outs" — with equipment idle for want of personnel to operate it.
Last year, Municipal Resources, Inc. of Meredith undertook a comprehensive review of the department's operations, facilities and apparatus — with special emphasis on its scheduling practices, overtime staffing and shift coverage — and recommended the city hire eight additional firefighters during the next three years. The call volume and workload, MRI found, "is steadily increasing," indicating that "the level of staffing is not adequate."
Overtime pay is incurred whenever someone misses a shift and special events and significant emergencies require addition personnel be brought in while they are officially off duty. MRI calculated the annual cost of overtime was approximately $460,000, of which $200,000 is defrayed with revenue provided by LRGHealthcare. In 2012, overtime was required to cover 561 of 730 shifts, or 77 percent of the time.

MRI recommended hiring four firefighters in fiscal year 2014 to fill float positions on each platoon to reduce overtime and suggested three options for deploying the additional personnel, which would spare between 47 percent and 92 percent of the increased cost by trimming overtime.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 03:07

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Gilford accepts responsibility for Area Road

GILFORD — Selectmen voted unanimously last night to accept the portion of Area Road that goes to the Gunstock Mountain Resort gate as a public way after getting a verbal assurance from Gunstock Commissioner Bob Durfee that the resort would either reimburse the town or work with the Public Works director for the work that needs to be done.

That works includes building a cul-de-sac for plow turnaround, filling two potholes and two fixing minor washout spots.

While the plan for that portion of the road to become a town road has been in the works for about a year and was approved by the Belknap County Commissioners earlier this week, some nearby residents still had reservations mostly about easements, maintenance, and speed.

Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan made note that while the proposed cul-de-sac for plowing was not exactly as he would like it, he said his department could work with the Gunstock proposal. He noted also that the two potholes and two washouts must be fixed "almost immediately" but, other than that, he was generally satisfied with current condition of the road.

"In a perfect world, I'd ask for an overlay," Morgan said, adding his crews would "make do with what we've got."

Last night's vote means that officially the town of Gilford owns the now-designated Class V road and is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.

Technically, said Town Administrator Scott Dunn, the paperwork filing will take some time, but once the vote was made, the town accepted responsibility. The only additional costs to the town would be in salt and sand and future road repairs beyond what was agreed to last night.

Although Gilford now owns the road, Gunstock will maintain an easement that would allow them to plow it in an emergency and to unlock the gate for letting people out during big events. Police and Fire will have the keys to the locked gate for emergencies.

Selectmen needed some explanation from Dunn about why Gunstock would still have an easement if the town owns the road and agreed to take the vote after he assured them that the town has the power and full authority to regulate it.

Selectmen also suggested to the Gunstock Commissioners that they should rename only entrance road to the resort to eliminate confusion for emergency responders.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 02:01

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Stand Up Laconia head calls for parents to get more involved in effort to curb alcohol & drug use

LACONIA — "I cannot emphasize enough what trouble our state is in," began Tym Rourke, addressing the annual meeting of Better Together this week. "We are terrible," he continued. "Our young adults have among the highest rates of (drug & alcohol) addiction in the country."

This year Better Together celebrated Stand Up Laconia, the coalition of adults and youth who live, learn or work in the city who come together to curb alcohol and drug use among young people and encourage positive, healthy relationships within families and peer groups. "We're empowering our youth to make good, healthy choices," said Clare Perrson, who chairs the coalition.

Rourke, the director of the substance abuse program of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, noted that although New Hampshire is often ranked among the healthiest states in the union, the percentage of those aged between 18 and 25 levels misusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription medications and illicit drugs, exceed regional and national averages. "Substance abuse is a young person's disease," he said, adding that last year more New Hampshire residents died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents, on of the very few states where that is the case.

While New Hampshire ranks high in the incidence of substance abuse, only Texas offers treatment to a smaller share of those requiring it. "We're next to last," Rourke said, explaining that less than 6 percent of those in need of treatment receive it. "Residential treatment, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment," he said, "we lack all of them."

The cost to the community, Rourke said, is extraordinary. He cite one study that measured the cost of alcohol abuse among adult men that concluded it costs the state $1.15 billion annually. The cost is much greater when other forms of substance abuse are included in the mix. As an example, Rourke pointed to David Kwiatkowski, the technician at Exeter Hospital whose drug addiction led to infecting 45 people in at least eight states with hepatitis C.

Substance abuse, Rourke described as "ultimately a community issue. It's no one's fault," he remarked, "but it's everyone's responsibility."

Perrson said that Stand Up Laconia was the very kind of community initiative Rourke envisioned. She stressed that since the coalition came together virtually all sections of the community — the schools, businesses, civic organizations, service clubs, and municipal departments — have become engaged in the initiative.

However, turning to parents, she admitted "that's the part that really seems to be missing. "We're not going to sit back and let the kids figure it out by themselves," she continued. "They show up for all the plays, concerts and sporting events, but we need to start showing up for our kids and hearing what they have to say."

"We really need lots of hands," Perrson said, urging parents to visit the coalition's website — standuplaconia.com — and participate.

"Addiction," Rourke called "a disease of belonging" that must be addressed by "collective action with collective impacts" by community coalitions like Stand Up Laconia pursuing a strategy to affect change.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 01:51

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Legal system overwhelms part-time Barnstead copy trying to act as own lawyer

BARNSTEAD — Part-time Police Officer Dave Scott has lost his lawsuit against the town, the state, and the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council because of jurisdiction and timing issues.

Judge James O'Neill of Belknap County Superior Court ruled last week that Scott claim against the three for violating his civil rights by denying him a full-time job after he failed a portion of his physical fitness test would be dismissed because he "failed to pursue the proper avenue of review."

Scott, who is acting as his own attorney and whose initial claim stemmed from his argument that men have to perform to higher physical standards than women to do the same job, has never actually gotten a decision based on the merits of his case.

On April 5, 2012 his verbal claim to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) was denied on the same day. On April 30, 2012 he filed a written complaint with HRC as well as the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.

The written complaint to the HRC was dismissed on May 8 because he was in the wrong jurisdiction and on September 22, 2012 his EEOC case was dismissed because it adopted the findings of the HRC, according to a brief rehash of his legal travails as written by Judge O'Neill in last week's ruling.

On November 14, 2012 Scott argued gender discrimination under Title VII against the state, the police standards and training council in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire but it was dismissed on March 8, 2013 because the federal court determined he sued the wrong party saying he should have filed against the town, which is his employer.

On April 11, 2013, the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire declined to reconsider its decision so Scott filed suit in Belknap County Superior Court where the three respondents, the town of Barnstead, the state, and the police standards and training council all countered he was in the wrong court and needed to file a petition for a writ of certiorari (an appeal) and not a lawsuit.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 01:44

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