FARMINGTON — Farmington Fire and Rescue needs to do something about the lack of people joining the department, Fire Chief Terry Bell told the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday.

The board met with department heads for an initial review of the proposed town budget. 

The Fire Department is seeking an increase of $94,486 to help address the situation. The total budget request is $411,828, which is 29.77 percent more than the $317,342 appropriated by voters last year.

Staffing is the issue, Town Manager Richard Davis said. Factors include the size of the department, the age of members, the availability of people during the daytime and the number of calls.

The department roster is at 26 members. Of those, one is a chaplain and one a photographer, Bell said. The department had about 40 members in 2000, he said.

Members range in age from 19 to 76 years old with more than half the force older than 50, he said.

About eight members show up for a call. On top of that, the call volume is up, he said.

“We need to change the way we do fire calls,” Bell said.

He proposed changing the current system of two per diem firefighters who work Monday through Friday from to four per diems working seven days a week.

“Four well-trained firefighters can do a lot,” he said, although there are variable opportunities for the workload. Perhaps two working early, two working late for coverage, he said.

He hopes to find new recruits who are already trained, if possible.

“Everyone is in the same boat, not just Franklin County, but nationwide,” Bell said. “It’s a manpower problem.”

When asked if full-time paid departments struggle with staffing, Bell said those departments can have up to 40 apply for testing for one or two jobs.

“Per diems are employed to be on call for that time, just in case,” Deputy Chief Clyde Ross said.

The present per diems have accomplished projects for the department and the municipal building, Davis said.

Ross encouraged the board to be visionary, adding that Farminton has a quality Fire Department that surrounding towns look to, he said.

Selectman Josh Bell asked if being visionary means going to a district department where it would cover several towns rather than each town having its own department.

It’s a good thing to look at, Chief Bell said, but he said he wasn’t sure about savings.

About 10 years ago, five local departments did that, Ross said, suggesting turf wars or egos may have caused the idea to derail.

The decision needs to be made at the administrative level, Deputy Chief Tim Hardy said.

Board Chairman Ryan Morgan suggested the board work on it this year.

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