Professional Firefighters of Londonderry Local 3160 President Lieutenant Bo Butler and Firefighter/Paramedic Bruce Hallowell explained in a recent interview at the Hallowell home the need for requested funding of $205,000 for replacement costs for the department (see related story page 1).
“My job is life safety, and to educate and defend my guys as the union president, but also the taxpayers, because first and foremost, I’m a taxpayer,” Butler said. (“Town) Councilor (Tom) Freda is absolutely right – we dropped the ball last time by not educating the taxpayer as to why we need what we need.”
Butler said taxpayers need to know that if the number of firefighters on duty at each of the stations drops below 10, it puts the town’s emergency services capability in jeopardy.
“Last year was the first year in probably six or seven years that we maintained 10 firefighters 24/7, 365 because Acting Town Manager Bill Hart directed the fire chief to maintain 10 firefighters at the direction of the Town Council,” Hallowell said. “So we had an actual real number of what it’s going to cost to run the fire department.”
“Truth in budgeting,” Butler agreed. “This is what it takes to run the fire department effectively at the 10 people to maintain the level of service that is expected from the town.”
“Prior to that we had dropped as low as seven firefighters on duty,” Hallowell explained. “There was anywhere between two and one firefighter at a station. Prior to 2012 we were running a different staffing model. We had gone from 48 hours to 42 hours in calendar year July 2008. At that time we were running three firefighters in the north end, four firefighters at Central plus the battalion chief and two firefighters at South Station, and that gave us our total of 10.”
He said that put two on an ambulance at Central and two on an engine company, and at South it put two on an engine company.
“There’s no national standard anywhere that recommends two-man engine companies. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) recommends that if we have our self-contained breathing apparatus on, there are supposed to be for every two firefighters you have in a building, two firefighters outside the building ready to go in and rescue the two firefighters inside the building,” Hallowell said, referring to what is known as the “two in, two out” rule.
“So if you have two firefighters on an engine that are inside the building, you don’t have two firefighters outside that can go in and save those that are in the building,” Hallowell said.
“Another problem is that even if we’re talking about having three firefighters on an engine, which is not optimal but more realistic, prior to August 2012, we were what’s called ‘dead manning’ the pump,” he continued. “The two firefighters would set the pressure on the hoses and enter the fire, trusting that that mechanical device was going to maintain pressure while they were in the building. So if that fire engine stalls out or something goes wrong with that mechanical device, the firefighters inside the building lose water. The only way they know there’s a problem is when they lose water while inside a burning building.”
He said if they are at a stairwell trying to hold a fire in check so residents can escape, they become just as trapped as the residents inside if the hoses lose pressure.
“We’ve got multifamily dwellings in Londonderry on Constitution Drive, Stonehenge, and others. there’s plenty of buildings in Londonderry that are multiple story and have multiple families living inside,” Hallowell said.
The goal is to get in the building and hold the fire in check as long as possible so people inside can escape.
Hallowell and Butler said the additional money requested would pay for the firefighters to replace a firefighter out on sick leave, injured, on vacation or taking a class that firefighters need to stay on top of their form.
“Those firefighters need to be replaced when they are out,” Hallowell said. “Unfortunately it is not funded.”
“I feel it is my duty as a Londonderry resident as well as president of the Local to educate and inform the taxpayer on what happens when we go below that magic number of 10,” Butler concluded. “It’s huge, it’s dangerous for us but also dangerous to the taxpayers. They deserve better than that.”