PARIS — The Paris Fire Department has started using per diem firefighters ahead of schedule due to continuing concerns over emergency response.

Town Manager Philip Tarr told selectmen Monday night that the firefighters, whose schedule was not to begin until Sept. 1, began shifts Friday. Tarr said the decision was made after only Chief Brad Frost and a deputy fire chief were able to respond to a brush fire on Ryerson Hill Road. In that incident, no engine responded to the fire, but rather it was attacked with hand tools from a utility truck.

The discussion of per diem firefighters began after similar concerns related to slow daytime response time. Tarr said that by contrast, per diem firefighters were toned out for a car accident in Oxford on Friday morning and left the station within 90 seconds.

Voters approved $90,995 last month to fund the staffing of the fire station with three firefighters for 246 days out of the next year. The firefighters are scheduled to work from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and will be paid $11 per hour. Thirteen firefighters have been scheduled for the month of September, and most will work one or two days per week.

Fifty thousand dollars of the expenditure will come from a reserve account related to the former fire station on Pine Street, and the remainder will come from taxation. Taxes are not anticipated to increase because the funds will come from a seldom used overlay account, which covers abatements and other assessment-related expenses. The remainder of the overlay is transferred to the town’s surplus account from year to year.

Tarr estimated it will cost $3,000 to $3,500 to fund the firefighters for the eight additional days. He said the money will come out of the Fire Department’s regular salary account, which has $79,698 budgeted for the year.

Chairman Raymond Glover supported the action.

“I think the safety of the community is priority one, and I think the right thing was done, particularly at this time of year when we have a very high fire danger,” he said.

Selectman Ted Kurtz disagreed with the early scheduling. Kurtz said the town received numerous notifications of issues related to daytime coverage extending back until 2008, but did not take action until recently.

“I don’t think the world’s going to come to an end in a week,” he said.

Kurtz also said he was troubled that the money was being taken from the Fire Department’s approved budget, since he believed Frost and others had said there was “no slack” in the budget to use toward the firefighters.

Tarr said Frost was opposed to taking a significantly larger portion out of the Fire Department account, namely half of the proposed $90,995 as proposed by Kurtz at the special town meeting which approved the firefighters.

Selectman Lloyd “Skip” Herrick said the use of per diem firefighters will also lead to a decrease in other wages. Frost previously said the use of per diem firefighters would also result in savings in areas such as maintenance, since they will be performing equipment checks and other duties when not responding to emergency calls.

Selectman Jean Smart said she thought public safety could be jeopardized if the firefighters’ schedule was not moved up.

“I am not comfortable risking that my own home, or that yours, Ted, or that anyone’s in town might burn down in the next eight days,” she said.

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