Tuesday department heads shared their proposed 2020 budgets with the Farmington Board of Selectmen. Farmington Fire Rescue Acting Chief Tim Hardy at left talked about adding more staff. Also pictured from left are Selectmen Stephan Bunker and Joshua Bell, Town Manager Richard Davis and Selectman Matthew Smith. Selectmen Michael Fogg and Scott Landry are hidden. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

FARMINGTON — Acting Fire Chief Tim Hardy presented selectmen Tuesday with this year’s Fire Rescue Department budget that includes two more full-time firefighters and one part-timer to provide nighttime coverage seven days a week.

“We’re struggling with after-hour responses from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. during night shifts,” he said. Most who did respond to those calls were involved in the deadly propane explosion Sept. 16, 2019, at the LEAP Inc. office building on Farmington Falls Road, he said.

Other fire departments provided 24-hour coverage after the blast that killed Capt. Michael Bell and injured six other firefighters. Farmington Fire Rescue has continued night coverage since then with part-timers.

The department has four full-time firefighters.

The proposed fire and rescue budget covering Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 is $805,713, or $270,490 more than last year. It represents an increase of more than 50%.

“Our biggest increase is under wages,” Hardy said. “The day after Thanksgiving, Chief Terry Bell, Deputy (S. Clyde) Ross, Capt. (TD) Hardy and myself met for two and a half hours. We discussed scenarios, different proposals, response times.

“In my mind why people don’t respond is most are gainfully employed,” Hardy said. “When they get called out, when they get back home they won’t finish their night’s sleep. It wears on a person after a while, rightfully so.”

Under his proposal, each full-timer would work 24 hours and be off the next 48 hours.

“Adding one per diem would have two per diems working 12-hour shifts, not necessarily five weekdays as currently,” Hardy said. “We want to leave it flexible so could adjust, cover night shift, a firefighter out sick or vacation time.”

Selectman Michael Fogg asked if the 24-hour coverage was because calls have increased during the night or in case they do.

Hardy said there has been some increase from last year.

“It’s the response capability of our people during those hours, not being able to respond during those hours to whatever situation we get,” he said. “It’s guaranteed response.

“I can tell you it is needed,” Hardy said. “By having two people here at night it gives peace of mind to the call folks still on. They don’t have to worry about going to work exhausted the next day.

“It’s been very beneficial for all of us to know there is someone who will initially answer the call,” he said.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Joshua Bell asked for figures on the call volume from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“Is it an actual need that has to be met?” he asked. “It’s a big jump. It was the first time we went to per diem.”

Bell asked if incentives for night calls had been considered.

Town Manager Richard Davis said, “I know from study, experience, money isn’t always the motivator. If firefighters have a day job, have to be out half the night exhausted, no amount of money will compensate.

“Money isn’t the prime motivator for these people,” he said. “If it were, we wouldn’t have these people doing what they’re doing.”

Ross said a pay differential proposed several years ago was turned down.

“As far as calls between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., the question you have to ask is, ‘Do you want coverage or not, same as daytime?’ You can’t use the number of calls,” he said.

“If you look at our town, look at taking care of people, the facilities we have, the businesses being developed, we are very naked as far as coverage. Not only fire but police and public works,” Ross said.

“The demand is greater today than at any other time. Do we want to take our chances? That’s the question that needs to be answered,” he said.

Hardy said the per diems being hired now to fill gaps don’t live around here and aren’t available to help out after hours.

Selectman Scott Landry said, “After the crisis, being there every day taking pictures, I noticed the age difference for cities versus rural areas.”

Hardy said, “Those folks from the city, that’s their career.”

Selectman Stephan Bunker suggested making a chart showing current and proposed coverage.

Davis said two proposals had been suggested. The second one was to hire four more full-time firefighters, which would have added another $100,000. He said perhaps both should have been presented. The one presented is pretty big of itself, he said.

Selectman Matthew Smith said he favored hiring two more full-timers.

“After the incident we were left pretty naked here,” he said. “Adding two more would alleviate that if it should happen again. We lost our full-time fire force in one shot.”

Farmington’s total budget for this year, as presented, is almost $6.5 million, a 6.27% increase, or $383,696 more than in 2019.

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