|Selectmen Have ‘Blueprint’ for Fire Department Changes
It may take a while, but town selectmen say they are determined to carry out the recommendations of a
recent report on the Fire Department, bringing it closer to the eventual goal of full-time coverage.
The report, issued by the Local Government Center, was commissioned by the town following the defeat of a March warrant article that would have created 24-and-7 coverage by hiring more firefighters.
“My opinion of it is that the report will become a very good blueprint for us to work with in terms of progressing with our Fire Department,” selectman Scott Gross said.
From inadequate facilities to insufficient staffing, the report
briefly sweeps through a wide spectrum of changes that are needed at the department. One of the first priorities, selectmen say, will be hiring a fire chief who will become the point person for planning the improvements.
Within two months, Gross said the board hoped to select the new fire chief. Meanwhile, he said negotiations on a new contract for the local firefighters association will begin in a week or two. The last contract expired in 2005, the year the board tried to merge the fire and police departments.
Next, selectmen want to increase the number of firefighters. Since a proposal to add 18 firemen in March 2006 and another one to add 10 last March both failed, Gross said the board will be taking a slower approach, as recommended by the independent consultant.
“He is saying take small bites of the apple, as opposed to taking huge bites,” Gross said. “The handwriting is on the wall that we have to go slow.”
Prior to receiving the report, selectmen directed acting fire Chief Mark Hurley to apply for a federal grant known as SAFER, or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response. Gross said SAFER would provide the town with more than $100,000 each for two firefighters over a period of five years.
The town also needs to strengthen its existing force, building unity among call and full-time firefighters in the department, according to selectman Nick Campasano. “It has kind of divided into two separate forces and we need bring these guys back together,” he said.
A long-term challenge will be the town fire stations. Two of the existing stations are already being used to capacity, and immediate upgrades are needed to address violations of safety codes in all of them, according to the report.
One problem with the stations is that they are too small for standard-size fire engines and trucks. Campasano said the vehicles the department has do fit in the buildings, but only because the town has the manufacturer cut the newer ones down to size.
“We tend to purchase apparatus now so that it tends to fit the station, not fit the needs of the community,” Campasano said.
Aside from short-term repairs to bring the buildings into compliance with safety codes, board members say the town may need a new station. “I think all of us agree that we need to go to some type of centralized fire station,” Campasano said.
The 24-and-7 department envisioned by selectmen, he said, would rely on a core of full-time firefighters in one station. They cannot be in the Pinardville station, he said, because it would take them too long to respond to calls on the other side of town and the same goes for the station in Goffstown village.
Campasano said the board should start thinking about where a central station would be located and, if possible, find a suitable parcel of land the town already owns. As planning for the new station moves forward, he said the town will have to decide what to do with the three older ones.
“We may not physically ourselves be able to accomplish it all, but we need to put into motion a plan that will get it all done,” Campasano said.
Management Study on the Goffstown Fire Department, April
This document also includes two earlier studies performed in Goffstown over the past several