SOUTHINGTON — An all-call system for firefighters is placing too heavy a workload on the town’s volunteers, according to Fire Chief Richard Butler, and will be changed.
Currently, every fire call goes out to all volunteer and career firefighters, a system established a year ago after some volunteers said they weren’t getting as many opportunities to respond to calls as career firefighters.
After reviewing the system and looking at national data on volunteer retention, Butler feels the number of calls can overburden volunteers, causing them to leave the fire service.
Under the new system, “all-call” will still be in place during the day. At night, when volunteers are more likely to respond, specific companies will be called to a scene or cover a station.
“I don’t want to overtax the volunteers,” Butler said.
Research on volunteer departments showed that they operated best when there were fewer than 1,000 calls per year.
“Once you exceed that number, you either have to have an extremely large volunteer firefighting force, which I would love to have, or have a way to be a little more selective in the dispatch,” Butler said. “We’re going to be above 2,000 calls easily this year.”
Butler hopes to increase recruiting, particularly for companies that are down to a handful of volunteers.
Butler said he has a group of career and volunteer firefighters determining responses to different types of calls. Some volunteers believe they weren’t given “a fair shake” under previous administrations.
“I’m working to reverse the view for them,” Butler said. “I’m trying to keep them very involved in the organization.”
Volunteer fire captains contacted by phone and email Monday and Tuesday didn’t return requests for comment. Board of Fire Commission members said they have heard only support for the new system and Butler’s approach to volunteers.
Chris Robertson, a commission member, said he’s pleased with the direction of the department, including volunteer relations.
Robertson isn’t concerned about volunteers not getting enough calls.
“Everyone is going to be utilized just as much if not more,” he said.