Southington fire department gets federal grant to boost staffing

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SOUTHINGTON — A federal grant will allow the Fire Department to hire three new firefighters to improve response times on the southern end of town.

“Everybody has recognized that our daytime response is struggling, so we have to do something to improve our response times especially on the southern side of town,” Fire Chief James Paul said.

The three new full-time firefighters will be stationed at Engine Co. 3, 35 Clark St. The company is currently an all-volunteer unit, which Paul said can make a fast response difficult during daytime hours when many volunteers are at work. Company 3 will remain a volunteer unit outside of the Monday through Friday daytime shift, which will be covered by the new employees.

Salaries and benefits for the three new positions will be funded for three years by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant. The town submitted an application under the grant’s competitive process in March and received word on Friday that it was awarded $1.1 million.

Assistant Fire Chief Eric Heath said the department hopes to make the hires by January 2022 to allow the candidates to attend the Connecticut Fire Academy’s next training session, which begins in February. The Southington Fire Department currently has 28 career firefighters and six administrative and fire marshal staff.

Strain on resources

Between the daytime shortage of volunteers and plenty of growth on the southern end of Southington, Heath said having to send crews from across town to that area leaves the department stretched thin.

“It takes a little while for us to get from the north end of town or the center of town,” he said. “The growth in general in the south end of town has put a strain on our resources.”

Milldale and the southern reaches of town are some of the farthest from the fire department headquarters at 310 N. Main St. and Station 5 — both of which are staffed with firefighters around the clock — meaning staff firefighters have to drive across town while volunteer crews assemble.

Grant or no grant

Board of Fire Commissioners Chairperson Nathan Wilson said the department has very talented grant writers who crafted a strong application, however they were still biting their nails as FEMA announced funding for approved projects over the past three weeks. Regardless of getting the federal funding, he said at least three new positions would be needed to make up for a declining number of volunteers.

“Regardless of the grant or not the commission and the department administration would have gone forward with having a conversation with the Town Council and the town manager and the Board of Finance to add at least three positions,” he said.

The board unanimously approved pursuing the grant and met with the Board of Finance and Town Council to impress upon them the need for more firefighters and to ensure that both bodies were aware that the grant does include an eventual commitment to fund the positions in three years after the grant dollars are exhausted.

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian

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