Budget plan to ax firefighter training program

The cut would affect nine training schools, cutting money for operational costs, instructor's payroll, utility costs and facilities maintenance

New Haven Register

DERBY, Conn. — Valley lawmakers are fighting to stop proposed cuts to the state’s fire training schools, including a $35,283 cut that would severely impact training for Valley volunteer firefighters, potentially causing tuition to skyrocket by more than 300 percent.

An overall proposed cut of $743,899 in the state budget would affect the state’s nine fire training schools, cutting money for operational costs, instructor’s payroll, utility costs and facilities maintenance.

While the Valley currently doesn’t have a brick and mortar school, the Valley Fire Chiefs Regional Training School does training that takes places at various fire houses located throughout the Valley. When volunteers need to what they call live burn training, they must travel to firehouses in New Haven and Fairfield, according to Derby Assistant Fire Chief Dave Lenart, and pay fees associated with that.

Lenart said funding from the state is “crucial” in helping keep both tuition costs and operational costs down. For example, a basic Firefighting I course costs about $750, according to Derby Fire Marshal Phil Hawke, and without the state helping to subsidize those costs, that same course would cost upwards of $1,500 or more. With the proposed cuts, tuition could spike upwards of 400 percent, according to the Valley’s delegation of lawmakers opposed to the cuts.

“If it wasn’t for the state subsidy, we wouldn’t be able to do any additional training,” Lenart said.

The proposed cuts would not only be detrimental to training new firefighters, Lenart said, but would also hamper efforts to keep current firefighters up to date and trained in new technology, as well as continuing training required by the National Fire Protection Agency and OSHA.

Lenart said 70 percent of the fire departments in Connecticut are volunteer, saving cities considerable money. He said rough costs for Derby to switch to a “minimally staffed” paid fire department would cost $2 million a year, as opposed to Derby’s roughly $350,000 fire department budget.

“The state funding is crucial, and it’s not just recruiting that would be affected (by the cuts), but all the membership,” Lenart said. The state cutting off the funding is not a good idea.”

Plans to build a regional fire training facility in Beacon Falls have been in the works for more than a decade. Seymour Fire Chief John Cronin said money to build a Valley school has not yet been approved by the state bond commission.

State Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, said state funding is critical to volunteer firefighters.

“Five of the seven municipalities in my district are served solely by volunteer fire departments,” said Crisco. “Many of our region’s firefighters have benefited from the essential training they received at the state’s Fire Training Schools. It is critical we do whatever we can to support these schools and the lifesaving practices they impart.”

State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, agreed.

“Our front line responders are vital to our towns and cities,” Klarides said. “We cannot afford to compromise our public safety. The work done at these training facilities is critical to upgrading skills and maintaining certifications, work not replicated anywhere else in the state.’’

State Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia/Derby and state Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, agreed that volunteers are crucial to their communities.

“We have an obligation to make sure that they are trained properly to not only prevent injury to themselves but to others,” Gentile said.

“Connecticut should be investing in firefighter training, not cutting it,” Conroy said. “Emergency responders put themselves in the line of danger; we should stand by them.”

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