9 NH volunteer FFs resign after addition of paid personnel

The New Castle Fire Department volunteers resigned in public letters after the addition of 13 paid, part-time firefighter-EMTs

Elizabeth Dinan
Portsmouth Herald, N.H.

NEW CASTLE, N.H. — The recent resignations of volunteer firefighters was unfortunate, said Selectman Thomas Maher, but was the result of the town's shift from mostly volunteers, to paid firefighters/EMTs.

The volunteer firefighter resignations were made public in letters to the editor of the Portsmouth Herald. One writer, Bill Kingston, said "the safety of our community is no longer in our hands" because the resident volunteers quit and "at any time there are only one or two per diem people on duty to answer emergencies; none of whom live in New Castle."

Nine New Castle volunteer firefighters resigned in public letters after the department added 13 paid, part-time firefighter-EMTs. (Photo/New Castle Fire Department, New Hampshire Facebook)
Nine New Castle volunteer firefighters resigned in public letters after the department added 13 paid, part-time firefighter-EMTs. (Photo/New Castle Fire Department, New Hampshire Facebook)

The Portsmouth Herald asked the town's three selectmen and Fire Chief Ted Hartmann to respond and all agreed Selectman Thomas Maher would speak for all. Maher said they first wanted to "thank the volunteers who have served as the backbone of the New Castle Fire Department for decades."

"We value their service," he said.

The selectman said volunteerism is, however, "trending downward and that's not a local issue, it is a national issue."

"Small town fire departments are trying to navigate this trend all over America," he said. "Beginning in 2019, we began transitioning to a hybrid fire department; a mix of volunteers, part time and full time."

Chief Hartmann, he said, "has our full support in this effort."

Maher said after former chief Dave Blanding left in October 2019, the Fire Department's "approach was heavily on volunteers." He said selectmen studied the volunteer roster of about 37 volunteers, a good many of whom were not active with the department.

"That was our wake-up call," said Maher, who explained the town leaders began "moving toward more paid part-time firefighters/EMTs."

"It's painful they're unhappy with this direction," Maher said about the volunteers who resigned. "Volunteers have provided the backbone for our town for decades. But we need a greater sense of security. We lost some good people, but we gained some good people."

Maher said the town now has 13 paid, part-time firefighters and increased the department's budget last year by 11%.

"This is not a budget move," he said. "At the end of the day, we're trying to move in the direction with more professionals. It's a tough change."

Kingston wrote to the Herald, "A simple solution to this mess is to resume using and training with the New Castle volunteers to supplement the paid staff while New Castle fumbles its transition to a paid department. This is not going to happen so the volunteers are left with no alternative but to resign."

Maher said the paid part-timers are all scheduled for work shifts and all will be trained to be EMTs. He said of the nine volunteers who recently resigned, three were answering calls with regularly.

"There's a physical ability to fighting a fire," he added.

Mayer said some of the volunteers were also upset that New Castle gave a fire boat it got from Portsmouth, which got it through a Homeland Security grant, to the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts, last fall. He said the only reason New Castle took the fire boat in the first place was as a backup water pumper, while the town rolled out a new water-main project.

Maher said the New Castle Fire Department last year received 202 calls for service, 131 of them during the day and 71 at night. He said half the calls were for medical services, 40 patients were transported to the hospital and 54 calls were accidental or false alarms.

In response, he said, "We're trying to re-tool the department in a responsible way."

"Every member of the community is welcome to join us in service and although things look different than in years past, we believe everyone can be woven into the fabric of the Fire Department's organization," he said. "Part-time, on-call positions with fully subsidized training resulting in licensure and certification are open with no closing date."

Maher added, "We do value what the volunteers have done and can do for our community. We must, however, move forward. Change is not easy. But it is necessary."


©2020 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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