Many Seacoast-area fire departments now rely heavily on mutual aid from neighboring towns to meet call demand, a circumstance some attribute to understaffed departments.
The National Fire Protection Association has reported that fire departments across the nation lack adequate staffing, and many Seacoast-area fire departments are no different.
David Lang, president of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, which represents 42 local unions, said there is a point when it makes financial sense to use overtime to maintain shift strength. But once a community hits a staffing shortage tipping point, it financially makes more sense to hire additional personnel. Much of that, Lang said, is the responsibility of elected officials to recognize.
“There is no state law as to what a fire department looks like,” Lang said. “But there is a law that if you have a fire department, you’re required to do it right.”
In New Hampshire, mutual aid is a state law. In order to receive mutual aid, a department must be able to give it. Many communities, due to understaffing, rely on mutual aid to meet their regular call volume.
The Exeter Fire Department was counting on a new firefighter position outlined in the proposed town budget, but the Board of Selectmen voted against it last week due to union contract issues. The Fire Department said the need is now, but board members argued they wanted a formal agreement with the union about which shifts this particular firefighter position would target.
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