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Chief: Increase in calls putting a strain on Epping Fire Department

Union Leader Correspondent
September 17. 2017 8:32PM
About 80 percent of the calls to the Epping Fire Department are for ambulance service. JASON SCHREIBER/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT 

EPPING — With the number of fire and emergency calls continuing to rise, Fire Chief Don DeAngelis told selectmen this week that the days of trying to rely on part-time call firefighters to cover evening shifts are numbered.

DeAngelis warned that after this year the department may have to hire full-time firefighters to handle nights.

“For seven years we’ve been able to do it long after other departments went to full-time, and generally it’s about 1,000 runs a year (before) a department starts to have problems,” DeAngelis said.

The department logged about 1,200 calls in 2015 and 2016, but DeAngelis said that number is expected to surpass 1,300 this year.

About 80 percent of the calls are for the ambulance service, he said.

“Our older members are leaving. The younger members are a different generation. We don’t get the commitment we used to have. The members that are on work their full hours. We have very few exceptions to that … and we just can’t seem to maintain the amount of people we need to staff properly,” DeAngelis said.

The part-time firefighters are currently paid $7.25 an hour to be on call for a night shift. DeAngelis said the pay jumps to $12 to $18 an hour, depending on their qualifications, when they respond to a call, fill out paperwork, and perform other tasks related to the call.

DeAngelis said he expects the department may eventually need to hire up to four new full-time firefighters to work nights who would be added over time.

“It may take a few years to do it,” he said.

Selectman Tom Dwyer suggested it might be more cost effective if the town increased the pay rate for the part-time firefighters. He insisted that an increase would make it more attractive and avoid the need to hire more full-time firefighters with full benefits.

“If you kick the rate to $17.50 an hour as a part-timer you’re going to get more bodies. That’s $10 more an hour for a six-hour shift,” he said.

Town Administrator Gregory Dodge said the fire department model is changing as are attitudes toward working part-time at night when people already have other full-time jobs.

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