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The Wallingford Fire Service is a noble calling. There is no other municipal agency that can compare to the service they provide. Someone calls 911 and they just show up, no question asked, no paperwork or forms. They are there to help. Be it a fire, medical or any other emergency you can be sure they will get there first. Firefighters arrive at our homes and business while the emergency is still occurring. A delay in their response due to cuts or another alarm can have a devastating effect on our health and wellbeing and maybe your life.
In 2009, the fire department responded to 5,919 calls. While it may seem easy to dismiss this statistic, a breakdown of the calls will make you think again. We cannot ignore that these numbers represent our friends, families and neighbors. Alarms include over sixteen hundred non medical responses including motor vehicle accidents, hazardous conditions and structure fires. Loss of a business as a result of a fire leads to potential injury or death as well as the loss jobs and tax base. Seymour, Derby, Ansonia, New Haven and Milford have all lost valuable businesses when a large fire resulted in the company relocating out of town. The department protects our infrastructure and homes. A stove fire in a home is a normal occurrence in our town, while it will not draw the attention of the media. Left unchecked this fire is the equivalent of a home invasion where injury or death is likely to occur.
You see, in my review of the department’s responses our system is overtaxed with critical emergency medical calls (500 calls for breathing difficulty, 40 cardiac arrests, 300 chest pain calls, 140 seizures, 100 diabetic emergencies, and 100 strokes) this leaves our town vulnerable if an additional medical call or fire is reported. If you were having a heart attack or your child was involved in an accident, would you opt to have an ambulance from the next town respond to provide advanced care. Presently when our ambulance is on another alarm advanced care is provided by a paramedic on the daytime rescue or one of the town’s career engine companies, all Wallingford’s firefighters are cross trained to provide emergency medical services as well as firefighters. Looking into the likelihood of this I uncovered the disturbing fact that over 30 percent of the calls occur at the same time.
The volunteer fire service provides a false sense of security. They are not equipped to provide advanced medical care and their stations are not staffed with any reliability. This means when there is an emergency call is made their members must first respond from home resulting in a delayed. At a structure fire, it is not the number of firefighters you can get to the scene. It is the number of firefighters that arrive on scene within minutes of each other. Fires cannot be fought incrementally. The tasks necessary to protect life, stabilize the incident and conserve property must occur in unison. As a supporter of the volunteer system I see hope for its survival by the actions of some Wallingford Volunteers who staff their station on certain nights. This needs to be expanded to cover all duty nights if our combination system to be effective.

Cuts to the career fire department will place our firefighters in harm’s way. The Wallingford Fire Department does not meet national consensus standards for the recommended staffing at a structure fire. The departments current day staffing is at 14 and at night 13. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 1710 requires that the entire first-alarm assignment of 15 to 17 firefighters should arrive in 8 minutes to ensure firefighter and the public’s safety. These requirements are based on a 2,000 ft house with no basement and no houses nearby. A two and half story house on Ward Street that is on fire is no different than a 2 ½ story house on fire in New Haven where the first alarm consists of over 24 firefighters. Considering our towns fire department is already under staffed and over burdened with critical medical calls additional cuts will only further place our citizens at risk for advanced care and fire protection.
The burden to our emergency services continues to increase. Our structures and population are aging; the town will soon see an influx of about 2000 workers with the new Blue Cross property and the demographics of downtown are changing. When the economy is bad, the need for service increases. Some will turn to 911 as primary health care. If the fire department is called they show up. While every alarm is not dramatic, the department answers it with the same professionalism and dedication. Recently, an elderly family’s pet dog perished right outside their back door, prohibiting them from opening it. They called public works, animal control and the PD to no avail. When the fire department was called they handled the situation professionally and compassionately. See, the fire department has to be prepared to handle every situation from a fire, a medical call to an anthrax attack at our own postal distribution center.
Growing up in town, I couldn’t wait to leave. However, as I got older, I also got smarter. I realized there was no better place to raise a family. After living here for twelve years, I recently chose to purchase another home in Wallingford. Part of my decision was based on how well Wallingford is governed. As a fiscal conservative, I am all for keeping taxes low, but not at the expense of essential services and the fire department is absolutely an essential government service and responsibility. When my family has to cut back, we cut back on recreation not heat, food or medicine!
I was surprised that the town did not have a plan for the Arbitrators award. This award was more than reasonable. Firefighters haven’t had a raise in two years while the teacher, managers and police have all receive generous raises. Most fire departments and police departments have parity in pay. Our town shows a large discrepancy between our essential services. A police lieutenant makes $1,519.20 a week, while a fire department Captain makes $1,338.46 a week. That’s a $180.74 difference. And the discrepancy between a firefighter and police officer is similar. Note in Wallingford, a Captain is a shift commander, who is responsible for the volunteers as well as the career staff at emergency scenes. This is the equivalent of a Battalion Chief in any other community. The raises awarded were more than fair, a zero for the first year. This saving to the town in the first year will be compounded in the future. The following year’s raises are 3 percent, split into six month increments, spaced 6 months apart. With the final year 3 ¾ percent increase, again split into 2 raises spread out over two six month increments, the first consisting of 1 ½ percent and the second being 1 ¾ percent. The staggering of the raises results in further savings for the town.
Given this data driven assessment, it demonstrates a need for an additional ambulance on the east side of town. Not a reduction in service that will result in harm to our entire community, especially the elderly and individuals who are less fortunate. Funding the arbitrator’s award only makes sound public policy. Absent from the conversation in town is the fact that the fire department brought in $950,000 to the general fund with a projections of over $1,000,000 in the next fiscal year for delivering advanced care. Cutting advance care from the engines will have a direct impact on future revenue to the general fund. If you take a look at the chart below, you will see that I broke down how much it cost every, man, woman, and child for fire service, police service and school system. These numbers are inflated because they do not take into consideration any taxes paid by business. Public safety must trump political will. Our town must fund the arbitrator’s award, and have the foresight to increase ambulance service for the next budget.

When the public needs help they are entitled to the best that is available, when your life is on the line second best (or worse) is not good enough.

To ensure the safety of its citizens, businesses and environment there must not be any cuts to services offered by the Wallingford Fire Department. PERIOD!

See chart below:
Respectfully Submitted,

Frank Ricci & Chris Pepler

Wallingford Fire Budget & EMS Population Annual Cost Per Person Monthly Weekly Daily
$6,349,193 44,872 $ 141.50 $ 11.79 $ 2.72 $ 0.387659
Arbitration Award $110,000
Arbitration Impact Population Annual Cost Per Person Monthly Weekly Daily
$6,459,193 44,872 $143.95 $ 12.00 $ 2.77 $ 0.394376
Difference Of: $2.45 $ 0.20 $ 0.05 $ 0.006716
*Wallingford Fire Shows $110,000 Arbitration Award
** The Wallingford Fire Department brings in approximately $950,000 revenue For the town
Wallingford Police Budget Population Annual Cost Per Person Monthly Weekly Daily
$8,200,000 44,872 $ 182.74 $ 15.23 $ 3.51 $0.50
BOE Budget Population Annual Cost Per Person Monthly Weekly Daily
$88,900,000 44,872 $1,981.19 $ 165.10 $ 38.10 $5.43
Wallingford Fire
& EMS Population Annual Cost Per Person Monthly Weekly Daily
$6,459,193 44,872 $143.95 $12.00 $2.77 $0.39

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