Decision on firefighters sacrifices public good for budget restraint

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor

This year’s town budget has passed through the BET and now goes to the RTM for approval. The most notable decision that the finance board took was to reject the request from Fire Chief Peter Siecienski and the fire commissioner and First Selectman Peter Tesei for eight new firefighter positions that would in their view have created a consistent fire safety standard across the town.

Currently a couple of our firehouses only have two firefighters on call per engine and only three stations meet the national standard of four men per engine. The new hires and some redeployment would have resulted in a uniform townwide three man per engine manning strength.

Rapid response and fast deployment on scene are essential components of effective firefighting, and while teams of four meet the national standard for “two in and two out,” three crew members represents a significant improvement over two-man engines. Weighing the marginal utility of the jump from two-man to a uniform three-man standard, most of my colleagues on the BET found the cost, something over half a million dollars annually, to be too high.

Some argued that volunteer firefighters could fill the gap and sometimes they can, but volunteers, by their nature, cannot guarantee constant coverage. Others wished to see a new configuration and rationalization of firehouses about town, but this will take years to study and implement.

So we are left with what we have now, a rather patchy life safety standard that leaves inadequate coverage in some areas of town. At least the board gave the green light to our first selectman to negotiate for a site for a new North West firehouse, a long overdue improvement. But in the end the public good is sacrificed on the alter of budget restraint.

I have argued often with friends across the aisle that I get the notion of balancing these conflicting factors but I have also said that sometimes tight-fistedness can go just too far. What price life and public safety?

Let’s revisit the issue next year and come to a better conclusion.

 

John Blankley
Greenwich

 

The author is a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).

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