To the Editor:
When I became a member of the Newcastle Fire Company in 1983, Paul Bryant was fire chief and Clayton Huntley was First Assistant Chief. At that time we had two meetings a month, the first was a business meeting and the second was training.
After maybe five years or so I rose to the rank of Second Assistant Chief.
A few years later after several years of declining the Chief’s position but being elected anyway, Paul Bryant formally resigned as Fire Chief because of the time restraints being Fire Chief caused. Clayton Huntley wouldn’t accept the Fire Chief position that year so I reluctantly became Fire Chief for one year.
When you become Fire Chief of a volunteer fire dept. the job is 24/7. There isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t spend time away from your job and family responsibilities dealing with burning permits, chimney inspections, talking with salesmen, etc., etc.
Over the years the federal government, OSHA, and other agencies have increasingly added to the reporting requirements. Records of meetings, training, truck maintenance, monthly fire extinguisher inspections, annual testing of 9000 plus feet of hose, must be kept up to date.
A report has to be filed with FEMA after every single call detailing the type of call, number of personnel, how many trucks were used etc., etc.
Non compliance with these regulations will subject the Fire Company to substantial fines. These fines aren’t threats: they’re real. Newcastle Fire Company is one of the few departments in the county that hasn’t been fined.
Fire Tech and Safety will be doing state required SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) flow service tests on all the air packs this Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. which will require the chief to lose time from work. In the next few weeks the state Dept. of Labor will spend about two and a half days doing inspections of records, the firehouse and fire trucks.
One of the benefits of good record keeping is that it increases your chances of receiving grants. In the last seven years the Fire Company has received $383,000 in grants from the federal government.
These grants have been used to purchase turn out gear, new pagers and radios and a new 2000 gallon pumper tanker. Whenever the Fire Company receives a grant, the Fire Company has independently raised the required matching funds.
When you become a member of the Fire Company, you don’t respond to fire calls until you have a required level of training. There are five command officers on the fire dept. and a secretary, treasurer, truck foreman, SCBA officer, three training officers, and etc. that assist the chief in the operations of the department. Due to the increased workload of complying with federal regulations there is little time left to the firefighter for basic refresher training at our weekly meetings.
Over the years the Fire Company trustees have gradually increased the chiefs’ salary for the work that he performs above and beyond what the other members perform. Unfortunately the salary increases haven’t kept pace with the increasing workload.
Therefore the trustees have decided that the chiefs’ salary should be increased to $35,000 with no benefits. In addition to the day to day paperwork he will be assisting the other officers of the Fire Company by performing some of their duties.
One example would be refilling SCBA bottles so that the SCBA officer doesn’t have to spend the hours required to fill the bottles. He would also do the weekly, monthly, and annual checks outlined above. The most significant advantage, in addition to having more time for the required record keeping and grant writing, would be time for the firefighter to do training.
When the chairman of the trustees initially proposed the salary increase I agreed that the fire chief should have an increase in salary/workload but was opposed to the increase all at once. I proposed a gradual increase over three or four years.
The chief understood my motivation but said that the increasing workload was affecting his ability to earn a living. If we didn’t approve the increase then he would have to resign his position.
The town and the Fire Company owe a debt of gratitude to the additional hours the chief has volunteered over the years. Unfortunately any other member of the Fire Company qualified to be chief would be subject to the same time constraints. In accepting the proposed salary he would be performing the duties for less than full time chiefs in other departments. For this reason I have proposed that the chief receive a five per cent increase yearly until his salary and benefits are commensurate with other depts.
When the chief retires, instead of having another big bump in the budget that like the one we are presenting this year, we will be able to hire a qualified chief to fill the position. Unfortunately the Fire Company should have started this process several years ago.
I think the selectmen’s office was faced with a similar dilemma when they increased the size of the board from three to five members and hired an administrator.
Sincerely, Thomas A. Stevens
Trustee, Newcastle Fire Company Inc.