NORTH HAVEN — Fire Chief Paul Januszewski says department growth has not kept pace with the increase in call volume, leaving lapses in service that he wants the public to know the risks of.
According to Januszewski, call volume has increased by 454 calls, or roughly 11 percent, since 2015. He also said call volume could jump significantly in 2019 due to “an aggressive push” towards economic growth and an aging population.
“One thing this administration has done an incredible job at is economic development, but with that you need to get an increase in your core services as well,” Januszewski said.
He said the department only has staffing to respond to about two routine calls at a time, and raised concern that residents may not recognize how its current staffing level limits its ability.
Januszewski will ask the Board of Selectmen during a workshop Saturday for at least six additional full-time firefighters in the next budget, which would be in addition to the two firefighters approved already for next year’s budget.
The department responded to 4670 calls for service in 2018 — 35 house fires, 27 vehicle fires, 310 motor vehicle accidents and 2,890 medical calls. That’s up from 4,416 in 2017, and the volument has been increasing steadily since the 4216 received in 2014.
Januszewski said the department isn’t meeting national standards — at least 14 firefighters responding to the scene of a routine residential fire —, nor is it growing as quickly as others around the state.
North Haven’s department currently has eight paid during a single shift, all of whom could respond if they are not occupied with another call, Januszewski said. Response from volunteers typically ranges from none to four members, meaning the town then has to consider mutual aid.
Januszewski said departments regionally and nationally are trying to reduce their reliance on volunteer staff. He said he does not expect volunteer numbers to go up anytime soon and cannot rely on volunteers from the three stations as much as the department once could.
“This is what keeps me up at night, knowing that if my career engine is tied up, I now rely solely on a volunteer engine and looking at their call stats and their call responses, they're not always available,” Januszewski said.
He also urged residents to attend Saturday’s meeting as a show of support for the department.
First Selectman Michael Freda said there are always concerns about the town’s emergency response times and call cycles, but what North Haven’s problem is happening in towns and cities across the state.
“In varying degrees, every city and town across the state is experiencing what we're experiencing: a high demand of calls and sometimes resources are not in place and mutual aid may not be readily available, or a delayed response from the contract ambulance carrier,” Freda said.
He also said that residents concerned about the size of Januszewski’s request should understand that all department heads are looking to address real needs with their budgets, and not “fill(ing)out requests just for the sake of spending money.”
The department is also looking to replace aging apparatus, notably acquiring a used ladder truck, to replace one that’s on its last leg. A used ladder truck costs about $300,000, according to Januszewski.