×

Canaan Among Upper Valley Outfits Strapped by Lack of First Responders

  • Hartford firefighters Troy Collins, left, of White River Junction, Vt., and Dan Jones, of Sharon, Vt., prepare to practice training in Hartford, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. The department is hoping to hire three additional full-time firefigthers to meet their staffing and call volume needs. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford firefighter Dan Jones, of Sharon, Vt., listens to instructions from his captain during a training in Hartford, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. Firefighters must complete 16 hours of training per month in addition to maintaining equipment, paperwork for calls, and public events when they are not out on calls. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford firefighter Dan Jones, of Sharon, Vt., exits the ambulance after a call in Hartford, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. The Hartford Fire Department is facing staffing problems that make it difficult to respond to two calls at the same time. The department has seen amount of calls increase 18 percent over last year and responded to 134 calls in the last two weeks. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford firefighters Lt. Norman Mariotti, left, and Troy Collins, both of White River Junction, Vt., talk with Capt. Shawn Hannux, of Hartland, Vt., in Hartford, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. The departments goal is to staff all four shifts with five officers. Four were working on Sunday, with one working an overtime shift. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, August 05, 2018

Canaan — Faced with mounting 911 calls and a shortage of first responders, several Upper Valley emergency groups say they’ll need to expand to meet the uptick in demand.

In Canaan, the town’s nonprofit ambulance service is requesting a nearly $235,000 budget increase over the next three years.

Canaan Ambulance Service — which provides 911 coverage to Canaan, Orange, Grafton and parts of Dorchester — made its request to town officials last month to mixed reviews.

With one full-time EMT on staff during the day, another one on call at night and volunteers filling shifts, the group responds to about 600 medical calls a year, according to its website. That’s a roughly 75 percent increase over 10 years, meaning it’s now time hire another full-time staffer, the group argues.

“We’re still in negotiations on what’s going to happen,” Canaan Town Administrator Mike Samson said last week. “But (those discussions) reflect a God’s honest need that with fewer volunteers, the level of service for volunteers increases.”

Canaan Ambulance requires about 17,000 hours of manpower yearly to provide the needed two people on call. The service then bills Canaan $65,000 a year, which Samson said is relatively inexpensive.

“It is not responsible to think that in today’s world we can be as low as we are,” he said, adding the town also provides a building and pays for the service’s utilities.

Increased calls and waning manpower aren’t just concerns for Canaan — they’re common worries for emergency services across the Upper Valley, Plainfield Selectboard member Rob Taylor said in an interview last week.

In past decades, he said, fire departments often were treated as a social club, where town residents could congregate and contribute to the community. But the expectation of firefighters and first responders today is much greater.

The training required for minimum certification in New Hampshire is a multi-day commitment. That, combined with drills and emergencies, is just too much to ask of some people, Taylor said.

“I think it’s going to be one of those deals where eventually, to make it worth somebody’s while, there’s got to be some sort of incentive,” he said.

Plainfield, which recently combined its two departments under one administration, pays its firefighters mileage for using their personal vehicles. The town also pays its chief a stipend.

“The chief has prepared us for the fact that someday, we will be paying regular firefighters as well,” Taylor said, adding that day hasn’t come yet.

The problem isn’t just isolated to the Upper Valley’s small fire departments and EMS services, according to Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney.

Calls to the Hartford Fire Department are up 18 percent over last year’s, forcing the town to frequently rely on aid from Lebanon and Hanover, he said in an interview last week. Firefighters also are challenged by overlapping calls, where there is more than one request for their services.

“We are seeing some staffing challenges here in Hartford,” Cooney said.

The town splits its firefighters into four shifts of full-time firefighters. Of those, three shifts have four first responders on call, while one has five.

But those numbers often drop down to just three firefighters, as employees take sick time and medical leave, Cooney said. The department’s staffing requirements also are outdated, having been drawn up in 1986, he said.

“We all know there are expensive challenges ahead,” Cooney said of potential staffing increases. “But there is a point our demand kind of requires it.”

Firefighters in Lebanon also have seen an uptick in calls, leading the department to take on additional staff to manage the workload.

Last July, the federal government awarded the city $369,700 in matching grants to hire firefighters over three years. The city is expected to pay about $229,200 over the same time period.

Both first responders were needed to adequately staff Lebanon’s two fire stations, which saw a combined 29 percent increase in calls between 2007 and 2016, officials said at the time.

The department last month reported 1,819 calls to date in 2018, a roughly 4 percent increase over last year. Many of those calls were related to Lebanon’s elderly population, according to Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos.

“We’re doing more calls with less people,” he said in a March 2017 interview. “It puts wear and tear on our people. They’re doing more reporting, they’re doing more calls, they’re lifting more patients.”

Samson, the Canaan town administrator, said negotiations with Canaan Ambulance are ongoing. The town has offered to increase its contribution to $125,000 in three years, but is awaiting a response, he said.

“We are committed to finding a solution but at this point, we’re not committed to going up three times the cost that we currently have,” Samson said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamer ato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.