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  • Fire Union President "Frustrated and Discouraged"
    Posted On: May 27, 2018

    In 2010, the town turned down a federal SAFER grant which would have allowed the Fire Department to hire eight additional firefighters.

    The RTM rejected the $1.2 million grant, upon the Board of Finance’s suggestion, citing that the grant requirements were unsustainable due to rising pension and OPEB costs.

    The board also suggested to the RTM that the staffing needs of the department only be considered once concessions were made regarding pension and OPEB costs.

    In 2016, the town retained the Matrix Consulting Group to “to conduct an assessment and prepare a Strategic Study of the Fire Department.”

    The report shows that, “(t) he two-person staffing of Station 5 (Greens Farms) and Station 6 (Coleytown) is not sufficient for the risks present in the areas served by these stations.” The full report can be found at http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=12304.

    These findings are not new; in fact, a Public Safety Analysis was paid for by the town in 1977, which concluded that understaffed companies presented an avoidable danger both to town residents and firefighters alike. So what has changed over the past 41 years?

    • Homes are bigger — the average size home in Westport is roughly 5,500 square feet and that number is trending upward.

    • Lightweight construction — today’s engineered trusses and beams fail faster in fire. Coupled with open floor plans, and synthetic furnishings, which burn hotter and faster than materials 40 years ago, survivability in a house fire diminishes rapidly after just seven minutes.

    • Life hazard — Westport is growing; there are significant developments occurring right now in town that would tax this department’s manpower in a fire, regardless of mutual aid support. The first few minutes at one of these buildings would be the decisive ones.

    What has not changed? If you live in the Greens Farm or Coleytown sections of town, your first reception of help in an emergency is still an understaffed, two-person crew. We still need three people on every fire apparatus.

    Earlier this year, the town and firefighters reached a deal on our pension contract that provides the town substantial long-term savings as well as the concessions that were being sought for new hires — $40 million over the next 20 years.

    Approximately 20 percent of our department are already on the new plan — a percentage that will only grow, along with a coinciding growth in long term savings.

    As the lead representative of the Westport firefighters, I am frustrated and discouraged that our department’s latest efforts to apply for a SAFER grant a few months ago were denied by the town — not a denial of an award mind you, but a denial to support just the drafting of a grant application.

    Unfortunately once again, the SAFER grant has become a missed opportunity.

    Nothing has diminished the need for adequate staffing since 2010, in fact the need has only increased. The safety of Westport residents and the safety of my fellow firefighters is critical.

    You deserve the best, including a safety infrastructure that will not fail you. I implore you to contact the First Selectman’s office, members of the Board of Finance, and members of the RTM — demand the safety you deserve and the safety we deserve.

    Nick Marsan,
    President, Local 1081, International Association of Fire Fighters,
    Westport


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