Conn. firefighters’ union pushes for data to support hiring more members
The Montville firefighters union president says data on staffing, overtime, mutual aid requests can show the need to hire more firefighters
By Daniel Drainville
MONTVILLE, Conn. — The town’s Public Safety Commission, mayor, fire marshal and firefighter’s union president are discussing hiring more paid firefighters so the town can staff its four fire departments without paying overtime.
First, the town needs to start keeping data, said paid firefighter and union president Timothy Condon.
He said the town should come up with a policy to track who is responding to calls, whether they are volunteers or paid staff, and when they need to call for mutual aid.
“You cannot manage what you cannot measure,” Condon said Wednesday.
At a Monday night meeting of the Public Safety commission, Fire Marshal Paul Barnes said he would be asking for three additional paid firefighters in the upcoming budget.
Barnes raised the issue nearly a month after a new schedule, endorsed by the town’s four volunteer fire chiefs and implemented by the mayor, split paid firefighters’ usual 24-hour shifts into a 10-hour shift at one firehouse and a 14-hour shift at another.
The union has filed a grievance with the town for splitting up the shifts, Condon said.
The town came up with the schedule after the paid firefighters, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3386, were awarded July arbitration that mandated they be paired together on their shifts at all times.
In order to keep two of its four fire stations staffed with two paid firefighters at a time, the town has been paying overtime, Barnes said.
Condon said the town currently has 12 paid firefighters along with one vacancy he’s hoping will be filled soon. The town needs 16 firefighters to be fully staffed, he said.
The commission’s Town Council liaison, Robert Yuchniuk, said adding three paid firefighters all at once in the next budget would be a “big ask.”
But Condon said after the meeting the town is already paying more in overtime than it would cost to hire additional firefighters.
“The town has decided to fill those three positions with overtime. But again, there’s no data,” Condon said. “So our personal standpoint is we think people’s decision making processes would be better aided if they had this type of data ― and there may be better support for us if they had this type of data.”
Condon said the data he hopes the town will start tracking includes records of who is responding to fire and EMS calls. The town currently has no way to know if adding more firefighters has made the residents safer, he said.
“If you’re changing the system, how are you measuring the system to see if your changes had any effect?” Condon said.
Condon told the Public Safety Commission he had the paid firefighters keep handwritten records on their shifts for the month of September, prior to the Oct. 1 staffing schedule change. He presented the data to the commission Monday night.
The paid firefighters recorded 221 emergencies, including fire and EMS calls. He identified numerous instances of volunteer firefighters not responding.
“When you combine all of these companies together, 25% of the time we got no (volunteer) firefighters,” he said.
The busiest time for calls, based on Condon’s data, was around 5 p.m. ― the time that, since the new staffing rule, paid firefighters have been getting in their service vehicles to switch stations.
On Wednesday, he emphasized the statistics he gathered “are not 100% accurate.”
“The point of giving those statistics to the town was to get the town interested in gathering their own statistics,” he said.
While the two volunteer chiefs reached Wednesday by phone could not provide the exact number of volunteers who actively respond to fires, a review of stipends and tax abatements issued over the past quarter show 31 volunteers across the town’s four departments responded to at least 15% of calls and met other requirements.
Every three months, the town’s four volunteer fire chiefs collect response data in order to determine which volunteer firefighters will receive a $1,000 to $2,000 stipend or a tax abatement in the same amount.
According to a list of stipends and abatements approved at an Oct. 23 meeting of the Volunteer Firefighters’ Relief Committee, there were six qualifying members at Montville Fire Department, seven at Mohegan Fire Department, four at Chesterfield Fire Department and 14 at Oakdale Fire Department over the past quarter.
Oakdale Fire Department Chief Michael Messer on Wednesday said the volunteers who qualify for the stipends and tax abatements do not represent the total number of volunteers who respond to emergency calls.