Fire commission seeks approval for department study

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The Southington Fire Commission is moving forward with a request for a special appropriation to complete a master plan study for the fire department after unanimous approval by the commission. The commission is seeking an appropriation of $77,000 for the master plan study.

“The commission voted in favor of contracting with an outside group to do a master plan of Southington’s town fire and emergency service needs,” said commission chair Nate Wilson. “This is a much-needed first step to help us build a successful foundation for our fire services. We are excited to see what the plan brings and hopeful the town council agrees.”

The department has consulted with Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) to conduct the study. It will include an executive summary describing the purpose of the study along with key findings and recommendations; a detailed description of functional elements, recommendations, implementation strategies and timelines; educational materials on emerging trends and best practices; and a draft and final report of the project to be delivered to the town.

According to the ESCI project plans, the project will take a “snapshot in time” of the study community and organization, review the configuration, programs, service delivery, and response performance in detail, and compare the conditions found to national standards, best practices, and the experience of ESCI consultants.

ESCI will review everything from the town’s population size, zoning maps, financial data including debt information and long-range financial plans and projections, past or current fire department studies and research, department policies and procedures, current delivery objectives and targets, incident data and more. In addition, they will review the efficiency and functionality of department facilities, apparatus and vehicles, staffing, service delivery and performance. There will be informational meetings at certain points of the study.

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The report will conduct an analysis of the community growth projections and interpret their impact on emergency service planning and delivery, and will conclude with strategies intended to place the organization “in a position to successfully serve its future demand and risk,” according to ESCI.

Once funding is in place, the project will take approximately six months to complete.

Fire commissioner John Moise said the study will help the department, in conjunction with the town, to move forward over time.

“This is kind of like an elastic band, stretching and about to break,” said Moise. “We hope to work with the council, and hope that we see some action come out of this report.”

Moise said conducting reports such as this is expensive.

Southington Fire Chief Richard Butler

“We hired a new chief to come in and look at ways to improve the department, and he has done that,” said Moise. “The chief is doing all that he is expected to do. Now, the council has to trust our chief, and allow us to move forward.”

Since the hiring of Chief Richard Butler, Moise said the number of overtime hours is at an all-time-low over the last 10 year span. Since the addition of two new fire fighters last December, the department has already saved $35,000 in overtime costs.

In addition, the department has turned its focus to recruiting volunteer firefighters to help keep overtime hours down.

In the last 10 years, from 2009 to 2019, the average number of incidents that the fire department responds to per day has increased by 24%. Most of the calls, approximately 73%, occur between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. when most of the volunteer firefighters are at their regular jobs.

In a presentation Chief Butler presented to the commission, an average house fire in a one-story, single-family home would require 11 personnel. On most shifts, the department has six firefighters Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In addition to efforts to secure more volunteer firefighters, the department is once again pursuing the staffing for adequate fire and emergency response (SAFER) grant which will allow them to hire additional firefighters. The grant takes care of 75% of each new firefighter’s salary for the first two years, then 35% for the third year. It also covers the standard benefits package.

Moise said the commission is hoping to proceed with the SAFER grant request and the master plan special appropriation at the same time.

Now that the fire commissioners have approved the special appropriation for the master plan, it will go before the board of finance for review. Then, it will come before the town council for final review.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at News@SouthingtonObserver.com.