FARMINGTON — Some selectmen are not sure this is the year for Farmington Fire and Rescue to include full-time firefighters in their budget.

While making recommendations on the proposed departmental budgets Tuesday, Selectman Matthew Smith moved for the board to recommend the same amount appropriated for the Fire Department last year, $401,513.

Selectmen Joshua Bell and Andy Buckland voted with him. Selectman Stephan Bunker abstained, as he is a volunteer firefighter, and Selectman Michael Fogg was absent.

After recent presentations before the board and Budget Committee, Fire Chief Terry Bell trimmed a budget request to enable hiring four full-time daily coverage firefighters for 39 weeks, to a reduced $434,492.

But Smith wanted to see more research done before opening this door. Over time, this could be something we might not be able to afford, he said.

He said he hoped this would start a discussion about the town’s future fire coverage plans. Voters will decide the matter at the March town meeting.

The warrant will list the department’s requested amount and the recommendations of the selectmen and the Budget Committee.

Bell previously provided options for the department budget to include hiring four full-time firefighters, three full-time firefighters or to keep the budget status quo. He trimmed his proposed budget down to $387,334, a decrease of $14,179 from last year’s appropriated amount.

When the board agreed to stay with the current appropriated amount, Town Manager Richard Davis suggested the department use part of the $14,179 to hire a consultant to look at the situation.

“The issue will come back next year,” he said.

The department currently has a roster of 25 members who responded to the 434 calls for assistance last year. Ten of those members were age 60 and older.

A per diem staff has helped, but some have taken other jobs and are not available. Efforts to bolster membership by advertising for paid-call firefighters has yielded few results.

 Although it hinges on the town vote, Bell requested that any town funds spent for a consultant’s recommendations should be seriously considered. 

“We really need to take it under advisement not just put money into a study if we’re not going to listen to what they have to say,” he said.

Deputy Chief Tim Hardy agreed, mentioning a grant received 10 years ago to study regionalization of area fire departments.

There were some good recommendations, but nothing has come of it, he said. 

“We (as firefighters) will respond as best we can,” Bunker said. 

But people need to understand that there are fewer people responding to more calls, he said.

The Fire Department has probably saved the town the difference in the amount requested, Police Chief Jack Peck said.  

The work done by firefighters and per-diem personnel at accident scenes would cost Peck’s department three hours in overtime pay for every instance to dispatch an officer to cover traffic control, he said.

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