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Conn. officials split paid FFs’ 24-hr. shift among 4 FDs

Earlier arbitration ruled that Montville could not staff its firehouse with just one firefighter

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By Daniel Drainville
The Day

MONTVILLE, Conn. — Paid firefighters are playing what may seem like a game of musical stations to staff the town’s four fire departments.

That’s because the town and its four fire chiefs have decided the best way to manage staffing vacancies in two of the departments is to have paid firefighters get in their cars halfway through their shifts and switch stations.

The staffing decision, effective Oct. 1, splits the town’s 12 paid firefighters’ usual 24-hour shift into a 10-hour shift at one location and a14-hour shift at another, Chesterfield Fire Department’s Public Information Officer Steven Frischling said Tuesday.

The paid firefighters start their shifts at 7 a.m. at either the Montville or Chesterfield departments, depending on where they’re assigned, to do initial equipment and truck checks, Frischling said.

Once those checks are finished, the paid firefighters drive a service vehicle to the Oakdale or Mohegan headquarters, where they will stay for 10 hours. At 5 p.m., the firefighters drive back to Montville or Chesterfield to finish the remaining 14 hours of their shift.

“It’s a learning curve for everybody: The dispatch, the paid staff and the volunteers,” Chesterfield Chief Keith Truex said of the new scheduling.

[EARLIER: Conn. volunteers criticize rule barring single-firefighter staffing at firehouses]

Truex, along with the other three chiefs, Corey Gaetano of the Mohegan Fire Company, Micah Messer of the Oakdale Fire Company and Ronald Turner of the Montville Fire Company, reached a unanimous decision to divide the shifts this way, said Mayor Ron McDaniel via text message Tuesday.

McDaniel declined a request for comment on when that decision was made or who was present at the meeting.

In July, during negotiations with the town, the paid firefighters, members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3386, had sought a ruling from an arbitration panel to mandate two of the town’s four departments to staff two paid firefighters at any given time, and that no firefighter could work alone during their 24-hour shift.

The panel had ruled in favor of the union.

The decision drew ire from the town’s volunteer firefighters, who feared it would increase response times and put the safety of residents at risk to have two stations left uncovered while the paid firefighters staffed the other locations.

Frischling said in a text Wednesday he could not provide a number for how many volunteer firefighters are currently in town due to counting differences between “members” and “active members.” He has tried to reach a count, but said it was “complex” to offer a number.

“At this time, each fire company maintains its own roster,” Frischling said. “I am unsure of the total rosters for each fire company.”

The town does not currently have enough paid firefighters to staff all four stations at once.

The union’s president, Timothy Condon, did not respond to requests for comment.

Volunteers Truex and Frischling, whose fire station was staffed only Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3:24 p.m. prior to the Oct. 1 change, said the scheduling change has made coverage for the department easier.

“We are the rural end of the four fire companies,” Frischling said. “So from my perspective, we now have coverage overnight. We now have coverage on the weekend, which we have not had for many years.”

He and Truex agreed they would need more time to see how the scheduling plays out before deciding if it is viable in the long term.

“I think it’s too early, because we just implemented it on the first, so it’s really too early to say one way or the other,” Truex said.

“We’re in it, so I want to give it a fair chance,” he said.

“And ultimately, we function as one team and that’s all that really matters to the people we’re responding to,” Frischling said.

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