It is no secret that volunteer fire departments are finding it harder to recruit new members, while at the same time veteran members are aging out and economic development keeps adding homes and businesses and people that all deserve the best fire protection they can get.
Under Chief Ken Morgan, Meriden has shifted an engine company from downtown to the west side, in order to move another engine company from the Chamberlain Highway station to South Meriden. Career and volunteer firefighters now share the South Meriden station, allowing the volunteers there, whose membership has dwindled over the years, to take on a more manageable role.
In addition, the city now has a better balance of career firefighters (who, by the very nature of things, are usually able to respond to a call faster than volunteers) on each side of the train tracks that split Meriden in two. And South Meriden volunteers are no longer responding to medical calls, which takes a large burden off their thinning ranks.
Prior to the transition, South Meriden’s response times had been around seven to eight minutes, well above the department's goal of four and a half minutes. Improvements in response times have already been seen, Morgan said.
Morgan and City Manager Tim Coon say that whatever “glitches” came up have been ironed out. “For the most part, it seems to be working well,” Morgan said.
That’s a very good thing, because such changes in a mixed, volunteer-and-career firefighting organization don’t always go smoothly.
When Chief Richard Butler took over in Southington, for example, he noted early on that eliminating friction between career and volunteer firefighters would be an important part of his job. “Each side of this equation has strong feelings,” he said. “My job is to get everybody working together.”
Volunteer firefighters remain an important asset to Meriden and the other municipalities they serve. If Chief Morgan’s changes can improve response times while also making the best use of the efforts and dedication of both volunteer and career firefighters — which seems to be what’s happening — then the city is being well served.