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Additional full-time firefighters proposed for Farmington Fire Rescue

Selectman Michael Fogg asks a question as Acting Chief Tim Hardy, the rest of the Board of Selectmen and the other department heads listen.

FARMINGTON - The Board of Selectmen reviewed preliminary budget figures at Tuesday's meeting, discussing a proposal to hire two additional full-time firefighters to staff the station 24 hours a day.

Selectmen reviewed department requests in advance of consideration by the budget committee. The department requests are not necessarily the final figures that will appear on the March town meeting warrant; both selectmen and the budget committee will provide recommendations that appear on the warrant.

As presented Tuesday evening, increases to the fire department budget associated with the staffing plan as well as equipment costs are the main driver of the $383,696 increase in the preliminary $6.5 million budget. If approved as presented, the budget would include a 6.27 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

Farmington Fire Rescue is proposing hiring two full-time firefighters and one additional per diem firefighter. That would take the department from four full-time positions to six. As outlined by Acting Chief Tim Hardy Tuesday evening, staffing would be arranged as to have two firefighters on duty at all times: firefighters would work 24 hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off. Over a three-week period, firefighters would therefore work 48 hours per week for two weeks and 72 hours for one week, for an average of 56 hours per week.

Per diem firefighters would augment that staffing plan, effectively providing additional on-station persons from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The department has been grappling with an issue that departments across the state have tried to address: a shrinking pool of firefighters available to respond to calls. The issue is particularly problematic from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Hardy said, for calls that don't draw a large scale response: carbon monoxide detectors, smoke investigations and traffic control responses.

"These shifts are getting left vacant more and more," Hardy said, "mostly for work-related reasons." Firefighters that work during the day know that if they respond to a call in the middle of the night, Hardy said, they weren't likely to get back to sleep.

Meanwhile, Hardy said, the number of calls the department was being asked to respond to had increased as compared to 2018. More people live in Farmington than in the past, and more people pass through town on a daily basis, he said.

The department has been staffed 24 hours a day since the Sept. 16 explosion at the LEAP Inc. building on the Farmington Falls Road, first through volunteer crews from other departments and later through a combination of per diem personnel. The fire station, which is inside the Farmington Municipal Building, includes a kitchen and conference room on the top floor. While Hardy said that the department had been making use of cots, they did have plans for modifications to turn that space into living quarters. Firefighters would bring their own food from home, Hardy said.

With the cost of adding two full-time firefighter positions and one per diem position included, the department's proposed Personnel Services cost center would go from $384,268 to $601,759.

"This isn't a want, in our minds," Hardy said. "It's a need to provide the services that the citizens of the town expect."

Selectmen asked for more information about the plan, including a mock schedule to show the impact of the additional staff. Selectman Chair Josh Bell also asked for historical call volume and response numbers for the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. time period.

Bell also suggested upping the stipend that volunteer firefighters receive when they respond to calls as a way of potentially incentivize greater turnout. Hardy said that in the department's experience, the dollar figure firefighters made per call did not seem to impact the size of responses. The bigger issues are a shrinking pool of front-line firefighters and a department whose average age was roughly 53, Hardy said. Per diem personnel could assist, however some of those firefighters did not live locally, Hardy said. That meant that even if they were called in the middle of the night, travel time impacted the response.

Selectman Matthew Smith said that he was in favor of adding the new positions. "I support this," Smith said, "I do."

Selectman Scott Landry wondered if Farmington was becoming the effective primary care provider for the region, as full-time firefighters would likely be responding to surrounding towns in many situations. Other selectmen noted that Farmington was a service center community and Town Manager Richard Davis said that the town did receive some additional funding via revenue sharing as a service center.

Other increases in the fire department budget include some funds for overtime and additional sets of turnout gear to provide firefighters with equipment while their primary sets were being cleaned. The proper cleaning of firefighting equipment between calls has become a point of emphasis for departments, as material adhering to improperly-cleaned gear has been linked to higher cancer rates in firefighters.

The department is also asking for $125,000 to go into the reserve account, an increase from last year's $75,000. That account is used for large purchases; the department anticipates replacing Engine 2 in roughly 5 years.

In November 2019, residents approved the purchase of a new fire truck to replace Engine 1, which suffered from corrosion and electrical issues, utilizing $300,000 from that reserve account plus a $500,000 bond, to be paid off over 10 years. The first debt payment is part of the proposed budget, adding a $59,502 line in the debt service cost center. Other debt that the town carries includes the municipal garage, which will be paid off in 2022, and the police station renovation, which will be paid off in 2026.

Besides the fire department proposal, Davis said, the budget was largely flat. The police department's requested budget was up a little more than $5,000, or .42 percent, as health insurance and other rising costs were mostly cancelled out by the retirements of three long-term members of the department, according to Chief Jack Peck. Peck said that he planned to bring forward a new hire at the next meeting, leaving the department with two vacancies in full-time patrol positions. The department has also acquired used state police vehicles and will be trying those out in the coming months.

Public Works is up just under $10,000, or .72 percent. Public Works Director Philip Hutchins said that new equipment investments this year include replacing a loader and outfitting a Freightliner truck acquired through a military surplus program as a plow truck. The proposed expenditure for the Five Year Roads Program would be $270,000, same as last year. This year's projects would include an overlay on Titcomb Hill Road, reconstruction of Perham Street from High to the New Hope Baptist Church (that project would be jointly paid for by the town and state through the Maine Department of Transportation's Municipal Partnership Initiative), as well as work on the Clover Mill Road.

That latter project was bumped up the schedule in the wake of the discussions revolving around the bridge over Temple Stream on the Russells Mills Road. The bridge has been closed since last winter, after a plow truck knocked a rail off. If the bridge were to be removed by the state, it would force additional traffic onto Clover Mill. The project would rebuild the road above the flood plain and pave it, Davis said; the town would also receive assistance from the Atlantic Salmon Federation to replace a couple of culverts. There's also the possibility of additional state help for that project.

A new item in the Recycling budget is an additional $30,000 for contractual services. That will pay Archie's Inc. to haul recyclables; that Mexico-based company previously provided that service for free but the market for that material has since collapsed. Archie's will continue to offer the service to the town for $41,915 per year; the $30,000 figure in budget reflects three-quarters of 2020. Davis noted that it was still cheaper than trucking the material to a landfill.

Minor increases in several departments, such as Recreation, continue to be driven by the rising minimum wage. The Farmington Public Library is requesting $205,404 as part of this year's budget process, up slightly from last year's $201,704.

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31 Responses »

  1. As a farmington tax payer I can’t support such an increase to the spending of
    The fire department. Please do with what you currently have

  2. We’re behind you 100 percent- er- until you cost us money.

  3. That is a huge jump. Why not add just one fulltime and one per diem.

  4. i think its time to put in a centrally located fire station manned by both wilton and farmington somewhere near the town line of wilton/farmington or maybe the old oliver stores to cover the increasing call in both towns ,shortage of manpower is a grave problem for all towns and this has been talked about for years .as for tim hardy listen to him ,he knows what he is talking about .lots of respect for tim and terry.

  5. Wow. 6.27 increase for just one department? What are the other departments asking for. That could really make an different in approving this or not. I mean, if this means a 10% increase in taxes, that seems like you are taxing seniors right out of town. People don't expect such big jumps from one year to the next.

  6. I suspect that the only people to see my comment will be myself and the DB editor because it may not be popular but I bet I'm not the only taxpayer thinking about the fire department's timing.It appears that the FD is relying on the sentiments of the people in the wake of the LEAP gas leak turned bad.There are needs and then there are wants,and wanting to spend over $360,000 more this year and each year from now until it increases is asking to much from the tax base.Only recently we were asked to come up with a $1,000,000 to get a fancy new truck.How much are we going to be asked to pay while riding the coattails of our recent disaster.This comment is not meant to belittle what happened.

  7. It cost money to pay for services, having two person staffing per shift isnt even close to meeting a safe level.Woodsnut has the right idea, regionalize the services and share the cost. Oh but that rubs againsted the you cant tell me what to do mentality. Until that goes away in 100 years the cost keep getting worse.

  8. Never let a crisis go to waste.....Better hurry, memories are short!

  9. @woodsnut
    Let’s not be spending Wilton’s hard earned tax monies. Wilton is fully capable of this already. That said, they generally contain costs as week as they can.
    Your premise is an Angus King idea from many blue moons ago.
    Want to start down that goat path, better include Jay, LF and maybe a couple towns to the north.
    Who runs that shop. Farmington? Ya, don’t think so.

  10. When are we going to make the fire department account for how many STRUCTUAL FIRES they attend a year. They like to throw out how many times they go out on calls, but not how many structural fires they attend.
    This is FARMINGTON MAINE, not Lewiston/Auburn. Who the heck can afford all these increases ? Keep the insurance paid on your homes and say your prayers.

  11. So much for the word volunteer... Like any good non profit it's time to charge the citizens of Farmington so the Farmington fire department can be an annex of Portland. I suggest Farmington attracts more non tax paying property buyers so what few obligated citizens that are left can continue to pick up the tab for all the increased costs.

  12. I would like to see our Fire Department supported in its request. Those of you that would like to see cost contained should put your name in to be a volunteer firefighter. I don't believe any purchases have been for anything fancy. Maybe you prefer to rely on prayers, I would prefer to rely on a properly staffed fire dept. Just to keep it inline, I am all for suggesting the police dept request a 6% increase, too.

  13. Hmm, there did not seem to be a shortage of fire fighters at the recent Wilton fire. Newspaper reported that 35 responded to that fire.
    I too would like to see a report similar to the the County Sheriff report posted on the BD. Seems a waste of equipment to be responding to every fender bender.

  14. @dulles---they only respond to accidents if dispatch "tones out" the department. Also a monthly published log in th paper would be a great idea.

  15. pk so you all think its too much money they are asking for ,what happens when they cant save your house because of a delay in firefighters responding or because they don't have a truck driver to get the firetruck to the scene ??? the reason the recent fire in wilton had so many respond is because it was a evening call and most work day shifts .so you don't think they need to go to accidents .but most scream about water or ground being polluted well the firefighters are also trained in haz-mat too and know how to keep pollutants out of the water and ground .our firefighters in most town are very highly trained .they not only assist the victims in accidents but they provide road closures and traffic control .without them then the police depts would have to have higher budgets for extra officers .the idea of a central station has been floating around for over 20 years now and its a very good idea but you all cry about higher taxes,well firefighters pay taxes too but they aren't crying cause they know that the need for fiirefighters exist .as for costs i challenge Tim Hardy to list the costs per call by listing the cost of running the trucks,cost of equipment and cost of firefighters and then once thats broke down maybe some of you will change your minds .

  16. Thanks to Bud and Woodsnut for answering my query. That is what this forum is all about, don't you think?

  17. We have been spoiled for many years with firefighters giving up their time for our safety, many volunteer hours, or light pay. The request for funds hurts, but I trust these men and women who have given their time for us to know what is needed for our safety. I'm supporting their efforts because I would like to know that if my house, my family is in need of their services, there will be a base crew of enough firefighters to respond. Check out the models of comparable towns such as Skowhegan and Rumford, they have just decided years earlier than us that it was time to staff the fire department full time with enough people.

  18. Something tells me that the fire department can’t tell us what the actual cost per call is. Also another comment if we have plenty of volunteers at night then why do we need to be full time at night? How many actual calls are there after 7 pm

  19. Sounds like hiring an independent auditor or PR type wood answer all the quaeres some of these unpaid micro managers have that post here

    I am sure there is a qualified individual from Portland or elsewhere that could come up once and a while and help us all out, for mileage and benefit of course

  20. Wally, maybe we should not staff the station at night so you can wait until whatever volunteers are available roll out of the sack, pull on their clothes, drive however long it takes to get to the station, grab their gear and get a truck rolling out. Sounds like you prefer that to having on-site staff that can respond immediately. People never need a fireman (police officer/EMT) until you NEED one, and then it's 'right now--ASAP'! Same way with our ambulance service; I suppose we could save all that money and just have you throw Pop into the back seat of your car and haul him to the hospital yourself...... The police department, your insurances, the Jaws of Life, the AED defibrillators that are now found everywhere, the sprinkler systems, and on and on things that are not necessarily used often by any of us individually. But do you want those safety nets gone? The availability of any and all these services/devices comes with a price whether it be for equipment, training, staffing, coverage, etc. Maybe Moxie's got it right; shut it all down, keep your insurances current and pray. The shortage of new volunteers for fire service along with the aging-out of the present volunteers is not news to anyone. This has been an ongoing, growing problem which is now reaching critical mass; the rubber is hitting the proverbial road everywhere even as the towns, departments, and taxpayers don't want to face it. To equate this request for additional staffing to the September tragedy is uncalled for. It is an acknowledgement of a legitimate and growing problem; no need for the cheap shot.

  21. One would be lucky to live right in town where firetrucks could reach them in time to put out a fire but let’s face it, most people live on the outskirts of town and their homes will be lost by the time they travel there. Let’s stop pretending money is no object and we can support the departments never ending increases. Do the best you can with what you have please..

  22. Well said summerzonly!

  23. Summeronly,
    That’s exactly what we should do. I just don’t think we should staff it full time at night.
    Just don’t think there’s enough activity to warrant it. Tell me how many fire calls have there been after 7 pm
    in the last 6 months. Bet you can count them on one hand!

  24. Sunmerzonly,
    Yes that’s exactly what I want and expect is a volunteer basis at night.

  25. Farmington has been wasting taxpayer resources for years on many unnecessary causes. We continue to dance around this issue every time a new cash crisis presents itself. A straightforward approach is to not spend money on frivolous or unneeded wants. If you want public safety, sanitary water systems, roads, bridges and fire protection, you support them. Unfortunately the welfare mentality, so popular in town, precludes cost constraints on the unnecessary in favor of cutting critical services. Bad choices always lead to bad outcomes. Perhaps a new priority is in order. How much does the town waste on education? How much does the town lose in taxes from the college real estate in town? Keep in mind that the college is a business not a charity. Don’t believe it, send your kid there and check out the cost. How many non profits cozy up to the town and slide on taxes? Hey, how about a homeless shelter downtown? Start thinking, before you approve funding increases for these failing schools and other bad ideas and then perhaps you can address the real needs of the taxpayers.

  26. Wally, really? Situations that require the fire department's response punch out at 7PM and rarely recur until 7AM?? Good to know. The residents of the Farmington area should sleep better now that you have reassured us of that.

  27. If fixing everything can be solved by throwing money at it our only problem would be is that we are broke.Some of the people in Farmington think we can save the world using taxpayer's money.If you want to spend,spend,spend,then figure out a way to tax umf at the same rate you want to tax the common man.You would be surprised at how much money there would be to finance the wants.The FD "wants "amount to a 6.7% increase in budget, do you think that the taxpayers are up for a 6.7% increase in earnings.At 6.7% there are no cheap shots.

  28. i think you got the 6.7 percent increase mixed up ,its a 6.7 increase in the fire budget not the overall budget .what would happen if it was a private fire dept instead of a public one and they charged each resident for services and those who didnt pay didnt get services ?? everyone of you would be crying then .respect our firefighters and what they think we need ,they are the ones that see this daily .every second of response time matters nowadays farminton has a real good chief and deputy chief and they know the needs of farmington better then anyone.i have alot of respect for tim hardy especially after the explosion,he went and took over the scene and got his crew to safety knowing that all his fulltime firefighters were down including chief bell .tim should be recognized for the hard job he did with expertise.this is exactly what his training is for.and he continues to run a top notch fire dept to this day .how many people commenting here could do what mr hardy did on that day ????? and yes i have worked under tim hardy at a few fires when our officers were not available and that trust is 150 %

  29. To be clear, the preliminary budget as proposed at that meeting was nearly $6.5 million, an increase of 6.27 percent over the previous budget. That's the entire budget, not just the fire department.

  30. Subtract the amounts that the the other departments propose to ask for and then add the $59000 payment for the new truck that was previously approved and the $50000 increase for reserve fund and convince me that the fd isn't asking for 6.7 % increase in our budget.

  31. Taxed enough - You can run but you cannot hide forever. This need for additional full-time fire department personnel has been looming in the wings for years. NO town manager or board of selectpeople ever want to hear about the elephant in the room that ups the budget accordingly. They want to maintain the status quo and have every department 'make do' with what they have for as long as possible until, eventually, it can't be ignored anymore. Then everybody acts surprised and gets their shorts knotted and wants to shoot the piano player! Ifyou have serious questions about the need for that new truck, go to the station and ask to speak to someone about it. Ask how the reserve fund has been handled. There are people there who would be happy to address your concerns; there is no secret agenda. And I don't know any firefighters who are rich and/or not paying the same taxes you do.