Published December 13. 2013 4:00AM
Groton - Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Todd Paige said Thursday the district may end the year in the black, the first good financial news the board has heard since the spring.
It has come at a price. Paige said the average response time in the fire district in November was up from 4 minutes to 5 minutes, due to the closing of one of the district's two fire stations. The average response time may change as the chief collects more data in the coming months.
The district closed the fire station at 13 Fort Hill Road on Nov. 1.
The fire department responded to 147 alarms in November, including seven structure fires, Paige told the district board of directors Thursday. Firefighters responded to 74 of those calls using the department's pickup truck instead of an engine to save money on fuel and repairs.
"Fortunately, what we're doing to hold back costs is working," Paige said.
Cindy Baril, who frequently attends board meetings, said the board said it would save $40,000 by closing a fire station but has already spent more than that on lawyers.
"Everyone sees the need these days to keep costs down by cutting back on unnecessary things," she said. "But I don't understand how anyone can think public safety and fire protection is unnecessary."
The board could not verify its legal bills to date Thursday night.
The district is in court over a disputed 10-year union contract with the firefighters union that provides annual wage increases of 3 percent. The state Board of Labor Relations ruled in favor of the union, and the district appealed to Superior Court.
Union and district board members are scheduled to meet Jan. 24 to try to begin a dialogue, Paige said.
Additional cost-saving measures that have already been approved are expected to go forward in the future.
Board President Alan Ackley is authorized to write a letter to more than 100 businesses, warning them that they should no longer depend on the box alarm system, which provides a direct link to dispatch.
The board is not dismantling the system but plans to fund only minimum maintenance.
The letter is intended to warn businesses that the system may not work as it should, and they should make other arrangements.
Ackley said he had not yet drafted the letter and was not sure when he would.