SPENCER – A federal grant awarded to the Spencer Fire Department will increase staffing and shorten the time it takes for firefighters to respond to emergency calls.
Fire Chief Robert P. Parsons said the department received just over $900,000 from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) program which will allow him to hire four additional firefighters for three years.
“That would allow us to go to two people in the station 24 hours a day and currently we have a third person on days in the station to fill in for overtime,” Parsons explained to Selectmen at their Aug. 21, 2023 meeting.
The staffing increase is badly needed, Parsons said, because at night, when no one is in the station, it can take nearly 15 minutes for a fire truck to leave the station and head to a fire.
A few nights earlier, a reported kitchen fire brought just nine of the department’s 40 call firefighters to the station, Parsons said.
“We’ve reiterated (the importance of responding) to the call firefighters,” the chief said. “But This is the life that we live in today. Every single call department is facing the same issues that we are, it’s not unusual.”
Parsons said the commitment from call-firefighters has waned as their families require more of their time.
“At the church fire we had 5 people show up initially,” Parsons said, of the raging blaze that destroyed the First Congregational Church in June.
Parsons said he hears other departments calling over the radio for firefighters to respond to incidents and getting no response.
He believes that eventually, towns will have to consider regionalizing in order to have adequate service.
While the grant helps alleviate staffing issues for three years, one selectman pondered what happens when those funds run out.
“Three years from now, what’s the estimated amount of money that will be needed to maintain this?” Selectman Ralph Hicks said.
Hicks said the staffing is needed, especially with what appears to be an increase in weather-related emergencies due to climate change.
“I think we have to take (the grant) and three years from now, we leave it in the hands of the voters to say, we want to continue this or we don’t … it’s high time we had firefighters in the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Hicks said. “Get the trucks out the door immediately.”
Parsons and Town Administrator Jeff Bridges said after the grant is expended, it would cost the town between $225,000 and $300,00 to maintain the additional staffing.
The SAFER grant program, “was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, ‘front line’ firefighters available in their communities,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.