GROTON — A committee is recommending the town hire two firefighters following a 4-1 vote Monday night in favor of increasing the fire department’s full-time personnel to nine.
The Fire Department Task Force Study Committee finished its months-long examination into the economic feasibility of expanding the department’s work force, culminating in the vote.
The only vote against was cast by member Jenifer Evans, who cited incomplete analysis as her motive for the thumb’s-down. According to a published report at Rotten in Groton and corroborated through independent sources, Evans’s interaction with Town Manager Mark Haddad became contentious during the presentation ahead of the vote.
Evans was out-voted by fellow members Peter Myette, An Hee Foley, Ryan Monat and John Kane. Haddad and Chief Steele McCurdy are non-voting members.
The vote confirmed the committee’s recommendation to hire two more full-time first responders, in addition to two recent hires, nearly doubling the department’s staff.
From here, the Select Board and the finance committee will also vote on the proposal, which is expected to add an average of $80 per year to every household’s tax bill. The final step in approval will be a vote a town meeting, perhaps as early as spring.
At a public forum on Dec. 11, residents voted 67-0 to support the department’s request for additional manpower. Changes in town dynamics over the past decade merit the need for more full-time firefighters, according to McCurdy’s initial request to the town early last year. The committee was formed in June to discern if the town’s budget aligned with the department’s needs.
Population growth in the town, 10,646 in 2010 to 11,482 in 2018, was one of the factors agreeable to McCurdy’s concerns for public safety; as are the increase in annual calls from 1135 in 2010 to 1295 in 2018, and the number buildings rose from 3,671 to 3,885. Yet during that period, the department had not added a single full-timer to its five-person crew, which is augmented by copious trained on-calls and part-timers.
The Select Board and Finance Committee’s votes are scheduled for and are expected to pass, possibly suiting up new firefighters by mid-year. The town has always been very supportive of us,” said Lt. Tyler Shute. “We have all the vehicles and equipment we need to do the job.” They just need people wear the gear and man the trucks.