Four times in the last year, Fulton city firefighters have been called to the Chateau West apartments just over the city line in Granby to help that town’s volunteers. Now, according to Mayor Ron Woodward, city firefighters are being called out of the city to help with accidents.
Enough is enough, said Woodward, who raised the possibility of quitting the county’s mutual aid system at a recent Common Council meeting.
“I’m certainly looking at it,” he said in an interview afterwards. “If you can’t get volunteers, why would you expect another municipality to fight your fires?”
Under mutual aid, neighboring fire departments are called to help handle an event or provide backup staffing at a fire station.
The number of volunteer firefighters has been dropping over time. Fewer employers allow workers to leave their jobs to respond to calls and fewer people want to spend the time and money needed to become and remain volunteers.
The city is in a bind of its own. Its contract with the fire department’s union requires a minimum level of staffing at the two city fire stations. Mutual aid calls could require the city to call in workers on overtime. As the firefighter’s workday is 24 hours, that equals 24 hours of overtime.
Woodward believes the mandatory minimum staffing requirement is all but impossible to negotiate out of the contract with the union.
Woodward’s motivation is simple: “I want to get paid for what we’re doing,” he said. “I would never want to eliminate it but I think we have to sit down and say ‘Look, guys, we can’t pay for this.'”
Woodward even raised the possibility of having neighboring towns contract with the city for fire and rescue services. “They’re paying for volunteer fire departments. They might better pay the people who are covering it.”
He said he hasn’t met with anyone at the county or town level to discuss this issue yet because he’s still gathering information from his fire department. But he said that what he’s found has him convinced something has to change.
“We have our own problems. We can’t serve the world,” he said.