By Dana Wormald
The Union Leader
LONDONDERRY, N.H. — With low staffing levels an ongoing problem for the Londonderry Fire Department, funding for department overtime expenses will have to come from alternative sources, town officials said Monday night.
Earlier this spring, voters defeated a warrant article that would have increased overtime appropriation and allowed for the hiring of four additional firefighters.
In light of the voters' decision, the fiscal year 2013 budget may need to be realigned to share the planned increases in overtime appropriations for the police and public works department with the fire department, according to town officials.
During a public discussion at the start of Monday night's Town Council meeting, fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie said his hope now is to try to maintain staffing levels at 10 firefighters per shift. As of last fall, the department had filled all retirement openings.
Five firefighters have been on sick leave this past year, however, which has made for some additional challenges.
"Nine (staff members) is my lowest limit," said MacCaffrie.
During one incident last week, the Londonderry Fire Department responded to six calls within 12 minutes. Over the past week, mutual aid was required during both a two-alarm fire at Poor Boys Restaurant and a bad car wreck on High Range Road.
"So had to call in ambulances from other towns. When you have nine or 10 (firefighters) and you're stretched this thin, multiple calls are always an issue," said MacCaffrie.
Councilor Tom Dolan noted that Derry's fire department has previously expressed concern that they've had to respond to a growing number of Londonderry mutual aid calls, while Londonderry's department hasn't always been able to assist with Derry's requests.
On Monday, eight firefighters and a captain were working the day shift in Londonderry, according to fire officials.
"So what's the plan? It doesn't appear we still have one, other than we're still scrambling," Council Chairman John Farrell told MacCaffrie.
Councilor Joe Green suggested putting the question of additional replacement time on the ballot for next year's voters, as opposed to asking voters to hire more staff members.
"The replacement time is actually better than hiring more firefighters because we're not paying for training, for vacation or for sick time," he said.
"Right now, it's more cost-effective to spend overtime to maintain staffing," MacCaffrie added.
"It's very obvious we need more firefighters," Green said.
MacCaffrie said additional help would come in particularly handy between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"We just have more people in town during those hours," he said. "More people are awake, and we tend to get very busy."
Adding to staffing woes, Town Manager David Caron said the department regularly loses revenue from uncollected ambulance fees, a challenge that has long perplexed town officials.
"We have problem without a solution," Farrell said. "With nine people on shift some days, we're running a higher risk of injuries."
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