Municipal Fire Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did the town investigate changing the fire department structure?
The town has a responsibility to provide fire services to the community. After decades of safety complaints and ongoing difficulties with cooperation and communication, the town determined that an outside independent study of fire services should be conducted (2013). In 2016, the independent consultant concluded that Weathersfield should work towards forming a single fire department (read the full report). Since then, all stakeholders have been involved in ongoing discussions and brainstorming, resulting in this collaborative plan to form a single unified municipal fire department.

Why create a single municipal fire department?
Since 2016, both fire departments, the Select Board, and the town have been actively working to improve fire services by restructuring the fire departments. A single unified municipal department addresses all of the recommendations in the independent report and provide the following benefits:

  • Safety: A single dept is the best-practice in fire protection and addresses safety and staffing issues from both departments. A unified command structure and coordinated trainings will improve safety for citizens and firefighters.

  • Enhanced Service: Coordinated emergency services will be delivered with the same resources and personnel consistently available to both sides of town, led by a dedicated full-time Fire Chief with EMT certification.

  • Unity: End decades of division and conflict by forming a cohesive and collaborative department. A majority of firefighters from both departments who have spoken up at meetings are in favor of the transition.

  • Efficiency: Save time and money by optimizing resources and assets, reducing duplication in equipment and response. Volunteers can focus on training and responding to calls instead of administrative duties.

  • Accountability: The taxpayers currently fund a large portion of our fire services, but have no oversight. A municipal dept will be 100% accountable to the town and citizens of Weathersfield..


What will change with a new municipal fire department? How will it work?

 

Current System

New Unified Municipal Fire Department

Stations

2 independent fire stations operated by 2 independent fire departments

2 unified fire stations working as 1 department

Leadership

2 separate volunteer fire chiefs

  • Dedicated to serving the town

  • Accountable to independent organizations

1 full-time fire chief         

  • Dedicated to serving the town

  • Accountable to the town and taxpayers

  • Certified EMT or better medical training

  • Dedicated to emergency response 40+ hrs/week

Equipment

2 separate sets of fire engines, vehicles, & equipment

  • Some owned by the town, some owned by independent departments

  • Needs & upgrades difficult to negotiate between town and departments

1 consolidated set of engines, vehicles, & equipment staged in 2 stations         

  • Reduce tax burden by reducing duplication of equipment

  • Optimized inventory based on best-practices

Funding

Tax payers currently pay $170,000+ to the 2 departments for contract fire service. Departments must fundraise to cover operating expenses

Funded entirely by the taxpayers via the General Fund, removing the need for fundraising. This year, the proposed overall tax increase is $9.46 per $100,000 of parcel value (.009%)—a portion covers the setup cost of a municipal fire dept.

Oversight

Each department is accountable to its own organization and to provide contracted service to the town.

  • Unclear roles

  • Difficult collaboration

  • Consistent miscommunication

100% accountable to the voters via the Town Manager and Select Board with a clear chain of command.

Firefighters

Our volunteer firefighters are dedicated to serving their community.

  • Safety concerns expressed by both depts due to lack of cohesive training and procedures

  • Heavy admin & fundraising duties

  • Maintenance managed by volunteer officers

Volunteer firefighters dedicated to serving their community benefit from a unified command structure and reduced admin and fundraising duties to focus on responding to calls and training.

  • Single set of standard procedures improves safety  

  • Train as 1 dept in coordinated drills

  • Full-time chief assumes admin duties & oversees maintenance

Medical Service

(Contracted to Golden Cross Ambulance Service, Claremont, NH)

Each dept responds to medical calls to assist

Golden Cross in their service area

  • Volunteer firefighters have varying levels of medical training

Dept will respond to assist for all medical calls

  • Full-time chief will be EMT cert. or higher, improving patient care & response time during duty hours

  • Over time, volunteers can specialize or form fast squad



Funding

How will the new municipal fire department be funded?
The town currently pays over $170,000 per year to contract with the two departments for fire services and has no direct oversight of those funds. A municipal department will be funded with taxpayer money, with 100% accountability to the taxpayers via the town manager and Select Board.

How much will it cost?
The municipal fire department funding is part of a proposed .00946% tax increase, which is $9.46 per $100,000 of parcel value. A portion of this covers the transitional cost of the new municipal fire department as part of the general fund. Costs are expected to go down over time due to efficiencies and the sale of redundant fire equipment.


Why is Town oversight Important?

  • The Town government has a responsibility to provide fire protection to the community.

  • Firefighting and citizen safety are of utmost importance, and the safety concerns expressed by the firefighters of both departments needs to be a high priority.

  • The Town has liability exposure should there be a lawsuit. Safety concerns reported to the Selectboard increase these concerns.

  • The taxpayers should have oversight of the funds spent by the town to ensure efficiency. The current structure is not transparent and does not allow for clear communication and reporting.


Service to Residents

How will services improve for residents?
Coordinated, efficient emergency services will be delivered with the same resources and personnel consistently available to both sides of town. A full-time chief would be scheduled to work during the day when many volunteers are unavailable. Volunteer burnout would be reduced by providing engaging training and reducing administrative duties.

  • Medical: A full-time chief with EMT certification or better would greatly enhance the emergency response time and patient care during duty hours. Over time, volunteers could specialize or from a fast squad to further improve medical services.

  • Fire Services: A single department is the best-practice in fire protection. All town fire department volunteers will now be on the same team, participating in regular training creating a more effective incident response. Reducing administrative duties will improve volunteer recruitment and call response.


Why does the department need a full-time fire chief?

  • In addition to managing the creation of one unified department, there is a lot of maintenance, planning, research, and relationship building that needs to take place in order to have a strong fire department.

  • The workload is far beyond what can be expected of a volunteer chief.

  • The full-time chief will have medical training (minimum of EMT certification), vastly improving medical services across town.

  • The option of a part-time chief was investigated, but ruled out due to labor laws that would lead to reduced services and higher than expected expenses.


Firefighters

What will change for the existing volunteer firefighters?
First and foremost, a single department structure will improve safety for all firefighters.

  • Regular town-wide training will build a single cohesive team of firefighters who need to rely heavily on teamwork and trust to stay safe and effectively serve the town.

  • A unified command structure and single set of operating procedures will increase efficiency and reduce confusion on scene.

Many departments across the country are having trouble with recruitment and retention of volunteer responders and Weathersfield is no different. Both departments discussed the tremendous burden put on volunteers during the independent study.

  • Volunteers are currently asked to respond to the Town’s 300-400 calls per year, keep up with increasing training demands, participate in department fundraisers, and run the business of the fire department.

  • Reducing the administrative and fundraising workload means that our dedicated volunteers can focus on being firefighters, reducing burnout and fatigue. With a full-time chief and town funding, volunteers can spend time participating in coordinated training, maintaining equipment, and providing service to the town by responding to calls.

Timing

Why this year?

  • The increased tax need from a full-time chief can be absorbed this year in the General Fund budget but may not be able to be absorbed as easily in the future.

  • Currently, a majority the firefighters that have spoken up at meetings (with representatives from both the Ascutney and West Weathersfield fire departments) are in favor of this transition. 

How can I learn more?
For more information about the Weathersfield Municipal Fire Department and the upcoming town vote, please review the following useful documents:

get notifications

stay up to date with our notifications. sign up now.
sign up for notifications