Recent commentary suggests that cuts to the Swanzey Fire Department are in order.
Like many emergency service agencies throughout the region, the Swanzey Fire Department is facing escalating operational costs at a time of increasing calls for service and declining membership. That is the reality. We are bound by standards put forth by the National Fire Protection Association and state requirements.
Operational costs include personnel, training, vehicle purchase and maintenance, and tools and equipment purchase and maintenance. We require extensive annual training and testing of our breathing apparatus, hose, ladders, pumps and aerial ladder.
As much as we try to prevent it, we have equipment and vehicle breakdowns and repair costs.
Today’s fire departments are an “all hazard agency,” trained in firefighting, technical rescue, hazardous materials response, emergency medical response, etc. Very few departments can fully fund all the training, personnel and equipment required for all these disciplines and responses.
Take water rescue, for example; the Swanzey Fire Department has a rescue boat that can be used for rescue within a body of water, a boating accident, potential drowning, etc. We have trained operators and SCUBA divers who can perform these tasks, attempting rescue on or below the surface.
We are fortunate to have this special resource in town, and to have it available to help other towns in the region through the Water Rescue Task Force. After initial purchase cost, the annual operational costs are minimal for this resource.
People would like to cut the Swanzey Fire Department budget. I am not sure why or where that would start.
The department responds to approximately 1,000 emergency calls a year, and accounts for about 9 percent of the town’s total operating budget. It has two full-time employees, two part-time employees and approximately 35 on-call members with varying degrees of training. During the day, we have 2-4 people on duty to respond initially to an incident. At night, we all come from home. That takes time, valuable time in an emergency.
Swanzey is a large area, and that makes it difficult to cover with fire protection. With our dedicated members, mutual-aid partners and the resources we have, we do that well.
To continue to do that well, we need a new station to replace the Center Station. This new building is not just a garage to park trucks. You have a professional, dedicated and trained force of personnel who serve the community when needed.
Many administrative functions are required in day-to-day operation of a modern fire department. Standards must be met and followed. Protecting our firefighters and residents needs to be paramount.
The time is now for this project to proceed, to invest in the future of the town and the fire department. The next generations of taxpayers, visitors and firefighters need this project.