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Conn. officials approve increasing firefighter staffing

Commissioners in Montville have asked for one additional paid firefighter in order to cut OT costs


Montvillle Fire Co.1 Inc./Facebook

By Daniel Drainville
The Day

MONTVILLE, Conn. — The Public Safety Commission has decided to ask the Town Council for an additional paid firefighter in next year’s town budget and consider adding more later.

“My gut is telling me this is what’s right,” said commission Chairman Gary Murphy, who voted with the majority Thursday.

[RELATED: Conn. firefighters’ union pushes for data to support hiring more members]

The extra firefighter would help the town stop paying overtime to its current 11 firefighters, a number that will go up to 13 after two firefighters currently participating in an eight-week training program are assigned to shifts. Fire Marshal Paul Barnes said Thursday it was too early to tell when their training would be complete.

“Right now, one is progressing nicely,” he said. “The other is finishing week two.”

But 13, while perfect for a baker’s dozen, is not quite enough for the town to fill the 16 positions it needs to fully staff the stations under rules imposed by binding arbitration awarded last year to the local firefighters’ union.

Under that decision, paid staff must be paired up at all times during their shifts.

That has left the town to manage staffing by having paid firefighters work half their shifts at two departments, then climb into service vehicles halfway through the shifts and drive to the two other departments. Meanwhile, the town has been left to compensate for the lack of firefighters with overtime pay.

The Public Safety Commission voted 4-2 last week to put the extra firefighter in the 2024-25 town budget. Before that, Barnes spoke in favor of requesting one firefighter now, then one halfway through the year and a third a year from now. That would “fulfill the contract and lessen the burden on the guys that are there now.”

“Obviously, I’d like all three right now,” he said, adding that he understands the burden on the taxpayer too.

Murphy said Thursday hiring one firefighter with benefits would cost about $108,000. Then, citing several potentially large upcoming town expenses with the schools and potential new animal control facility, he said the commission would ask the council for just one.

“We know we’ve got to hire ‘em,” he said. “It’s just a matter of cost. I just don’t think the town is going to absorb three guys immediately.”

Councilor Nick Sabilia, the liaison for the council and Public Safety Commission, warned commissioners and Barnes that the council likely would not submit to a mid-year request for another firefighter and that if the commissioners wanted two firefighters, they should present that to the council when it hears the general government budget April 24.

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