Photo by MJ Kent, taken from Hampton Fire & Rescue Facebook page.
Article 18 on Hampton’s 2019 Ballot asks voters to approve 4 additional firefighters, with the first 3 years being substantially offset by a FEMA grant. A reasonable question is – do we need 4 more firefighters? When the grant money has expired, the cost of the additional personnel (assuming they are kept on) will become part of the Hampton budget. At the same time, we want our community to be protected and we want the firefighters responding to emergencies to have the number of personnel that it takes to be safe and to do the job right. Here are some facts to help you consider this question:
How many Firefighters per shift is considered safe and effective?
National FEMA standards call for 15 Firefighters on an initial response to a fire at a residential structure. Hampton currently has nine (seven Firefighters and two Officers.). There are four such groups, for a total of 36.
That staffing of nine leaves the team short by 40% (compared to the FEMA standard of 15.)
When an Officer is out, another person fills that role. But when a Firefighter is out, the Department runs with fewer Firefighters. So although the theoretical number per shift is currently nine, a call could be made with eight or even seven responders in total including 2 officers.
Why Four More?
There are four shifts to the Department’s staffing strategy. Increasing headcount by four allows for a balanced response, regardless of when a call comes in because the number of firefighters would be increased to 8 per shift, plus the 2 officers across the four shifts.
Four more firefighters will allow the Fire Department to operate two staffed ambulances and will make every response to a fire safer for the Firefighters and the community.
The other side of that: being short on every shift means each response to an emergency carries increased risk for both the firefighters and town residents.
Does our community need the additional manpower?
Since 2012, Hampton has added 1.4 million square feet of real estate. Fifteen new roads, with 102 new homes. Condos have been built where there once stood seasonal studio motels. This means that the demand is higher. Calls come in two and three at a time with increased frequency.
The Fire Department has seen a great number of simultaneous calls, such that Hampton in 2018 needed to call on surrounding towns for mutual aid because of a lack of staff to handle its calls. We had 35 calls for mutual aid last year, and provided mutual aid to other towns 18 times. That means Hampton requested help twice as often as Hampton was asked to help.
There is an ever-increasing need for staff training. Ice Rescue, Open water (Ocean) rescue, Hazardous Materials and the always changing need to be up on the latest technology. Performing a rescue with hydraulic tools and cutting into a hybrid electrical car is far different and demands more knowledge than cutting into cars from a generation ago.
As a physical job, there are regular cases of employees being out due to injuries or illness. Having an extra headcount per shift also provides the department with greater flexibility with regard to scheduling, to assure proper staffing when the calls come in.
What does the grant do?
The FEMA SAFER Grant would allow the Town of Hampton to hire four Firefighters with a government subsidy equaling 75% of wages and benefits for the first two years and 35% in the third year. Hampton would be responsible for 25%, 25% and 65% of the wages and benefits through the three-year grant cycle, and the full cost thereafter.
A “yes” vote would allow the Town of Hampton and Hampton Fire/Rescue to pursue the FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.
What about the tax impact?
The 2019 cost of $138,187 would cost the average Hampton property owner about $32.41 assuming the Article passes and the grant is subsequently forthcoming. No Firefighters will be hired if the grant is not secured. In the long run, the Article would cost $49.00 per year for a home valued at $405,000 once the grant has expired. (Note: The first year cost includes Firefighter gear (10 year life) and all hiring costs. The majority of those costs would not need to be repeated in subsequent years.)