The membership of Bristol Fire and Rescue has asked the Bristol Board of Selectmen to consider budgeting for and appointing a full-time chief, and the town plans to appoint a committee to gather information from other towns with full-time chiefs.
During the selectmen’s meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6, Town Administrator Chris Hall told the selectmen about the request.
The firefighters voted at their monthly meeting Dec. 5 to ask the town to look into the position, with the recognition that if the selectmen add the position to the budget, it would require approval at the annual town meeting, Hall said.
Currently, the membership of Bristol Fire and Rescue elects a fire chief, whom the selectmen appoint as the town’s fire chief, according to Bristol Board of Selectmen Chair Chad Hanna.
Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. said he supports the consideration of a full-time chief.
“There a lot of things a full-time chief could do that there’s not really time for at the moment – things like having someone available to help with the (first responder) side of things, which really takes a lot of guys away from their work, to doing community outreach and visiting schools for fire prevention-type things,” Leeman said. “It’s just endless what a full-time chief could do.”
The selectmen have been looking at a potential change to a full-time fire chief for a while, Hanna said during the Dec. 6 meeting.
“We’re in the beginning phases of how we might go at it,” Hanna said.
Currently, the fire chief receives an annual stipend of $6,400 plus hourly call pay. From Dec. 1, 2016 through Nov. 30, 2017, the town paid the fire chief a total of $16,910.68.
The firefighters asked the selectmen to appoint a group to gather information from other towns with full-time fire chiefs and make recommendations regarding the job description, salary, and benefits, Hall said. In addition, the group would consider methods of selecting and appointing a full-time chief.
The purpose of the group would not be to make recommendations on whether the town should move to a full-time position, Hall said in a memo to the selectmen. The group would only be responsible for researching how other towns have implemented a similar change.
According to Hall’s memo, the group could possibly consist of three members of Bristol Fire and Rescue; Hall; town office employee Jessica Westhaver; Bristol Parks and Recreation Director Lara Sargent; and a member of the Bristol Budget Committee.
In order to vote on whether to make the fire chief position full time during the annual town meeting in March, the group would need to submit a report to the selectmen no later than the third week in January, Hall said. The selectmen would then need to decide whether to include the position in the town’s draft budget for the budget committee’s review in February.
Bristol Fire and Rescue will submit a formal request to the town, at which time the group would begin its work.
“We’ll move pretty quickly once the letter arrives,” Hall said.
Like most towns in Lincoln County, Bristol has an all-volunteer fire service. Firefighters receive hourly pay to respond to calls, but the town does not have any full- or part-time firefighters. Newcastle is the only town in the county with a full-time fire chief.