WESTBROOK – Closing down the fire station on Bridgton Road could save Westbrook money and increase safety for firefighters, but it might not be the best thing to do for the residents, according to Chief Michael Pardue.
The question about closing Station 3 was brought up by City Councilor Victor Chau during a March 25 Finance Committee, who suggested it could help fix the fire department’s growing overtime costs and protect the understaffed central station.
Pardue said about one-third of his fire staff have been out on sick or medical leave throughout the year, accounting for the increase in overtime cost. This year’s overtime budget is $225,000. So far, nearly $343,000 has been spent on overtime costs, with almost three months left in the fiscal year.
Chau said he received an email from a firefighter, who claimed there were some safety issues at the Station 3 building concerning staffing, specifically around the federal law known as the “two-in-two out” rule.
Pardue said the typical national standards say if two people go into a burning building, there must be two outside to rescue them if needed, plus someone to operate the truck.
“I’m morally opposed to having a substandard fire station and having something dangerous to our firefighters,” said Chau.
Pardue said there must be a minimum of four staff at Station 3 and five staff at the Public Safety building. The firefighters work on shifts of 24 or 12 hours. When one person calls out sick, their entire shift must be covered, increasing the overtime budget quickly.
The proposed budget for the fire department next year is $2.5 million, with a $25,000 increase for overtime, bringing the total to $250,000, still nearly $100,000 short of this year’s running overtime costs.
Pardue said closing Station 3 could reduce the response time of staff.
Pardue said it takes six to seven minutes for the five firefighters staffed at the Public Safety building to get to the Station 3 area.
More information on closing the station will be presented by Pardue during the Finance Committee meeting to review its so-called revisit list, Monday, April 8, at 6:30 p.m., at Westbrook High School, Room 114.