Montville budget unlikely to include 3 new firefighters urged by fire marshal

Montville — A steady decline in volunteering, combined with a 15-percent increase in call volume over the last decade, recently prompted Fire Marshal Bill Bundy to push for hiring three new full-time firefighters, a $161,500 expense that the mayor and town councilors do not want to tack on to the 2019-20 budget.

Bundy made his case before the Finance Committee on Monday, saying he was concerned the town — which employs 10 full-time firefighters and has volunteers at four private firehouses — was not maintaining the Occupational Safety and Health Administration policy known as two-in, two-out. The OSHA policy mandates that firefighters don't go into dangerous fires or rescues alone and that two remain outside away from danger, should they need to begin a rescue of firefighters inside.

The discussion came a week after town officials looking to comply with federal labor laws altered a long-standing practice employed by many fire companies across the state, telling volunteer firefighters who also work paid part-time shifts that they cannot serve the same firehouse in both paid and volunteer capacities.

Officials in towns like Preston and Waterford, also facing higher call volumes and smaller pools of trained volunteers, likewise are considering addressing staffing and qualification concerns, with Preston potentially doubling its fire department budget and Waterford debating the creation of an official town fire department under which its five volunteer fire companies would operate. The town of Bozrah in March struck a hiring deal to add paid firefighters and EMTs to a previously all-volunteer department.

Bundy's budget request included 13 firefighters for a total of $801,499, but Mayor Ron McDaniel's proposed $22.5 million municipal budget included no new staff, with firefighter personnel projected to cost about $640,000, Finance Committee Chairman Wills Pike said on Wednesday.

Bundy's proposal garnered support from a few members of the public, including full-time firefighter Tim Condon — who said the declining number of volunteers forces the firehouses to rely on mutual aid — and Public Safety Commission members Karen Perkins and Vic Lenda. Chesterfield Company Chief Keith Truex also said he supported the additional firefighters, especially if it allowed for 24-hour coverage at his station.

Town Council Chairman Tom McNally said the town needs more EMTs, but he believed Bundy, McDaniel and the fire chiefs should discuss staffing requirements before any potential budget increase.

Asked if any meetings were planned before the budget is finalized and voted on by the Town Council in the coming weeks, McDaniel said Wednesday that he submitted his spending plan "and that is where I stand right now."

McDaniel noted that the town could see funding later this year for two new firefighters if it is successful in a recent grant application.

Combined with a school budget of $38.9 million, the mayor's total 2019-20 budget of $61.9 million called for a 1.74-mill tax increase.

b.kail@theday.com

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