Paris ponders per diem firefighters

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PARIS — Selectmen contemplated hiring per diem firefighters Monday to alleviate a shortage of volunteers during the day.

Town Manager Philip Tarr said three daytime incidents occurred last week, including one where it took qualified personnel 14 minutes to get to the fire station.

“To me, that’s a red flag,” Tarr said. “And it’s something that’s happening not only here, it’s happening everywhere.”

The issue has come to the attention of Paris and other area towns before. Chief Brad Frost of the Paris Fire Department previously said there was a daytime shortage of firefighters due mainly to volunteers working outside the area. In 2008, several towns formed a task force to generate ideas to address the problem, and it released a report in January 2009.

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Frost said a grant becomes available in the fall, but it will be one-and-a-half or two years before it might be approved. If successful, the grant would fund staffers at the station for two years. Frost said the grant could only hire new staffers rather than fund any per diem firefighters the town put on.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Raymond Glover said one immediate fix would be to have two per diem firefighters each in Norway, Paris and Oxford. He said that would provide the minimum number of four required to respond to a structure fire. Oxford already has per diem firefighters, but Tarr said Norway was not ready to address the question this year.

Tarr said it would cost $64,400 per year to staff the fire station with two per diem firefighters. He said the town would not pay them benefits other than workers’ compensation and Social Security, and that it might be possible to alternate per diem staffers between the Norway and Paris stations.

Selectman Ted Kurtz said that while he supported improving coverage in the town, he was worried that funding per diem firefighters could significantly affect the tax burden on the town.

Tarr said it would be possible to transfer funds from other accounts to ease the burden in its first year.

Selectman Lloyd “Skip” Herrick said the board needed to accept that costs could increase for improving safety.

“Nobody wants their taxes going up, but I don’t want to see my house burning down, to see it sit there while the next half hour or 45 minutes I’m waiting for the fire department because I know they can’t get enough manpower,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Frost said per diems could decrease some costs by performing maintenance at the station between calls. He advised that the matter could come back before the town at a special meeting once further details have been worked out.

“It would be best if we coordinate this with the other communities,” Glover said. “We’re not going to solve this 100 percent on our own.”

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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