By Shirley Murtha
Lost Acres Fire Department Chief John Horr, Jr. presented an in-depth explanation of the cost of running the town’s all volunteer fire service. The department is an independent corporation that receives quarterly payments from the Town of Granby. For many years, these payments have kept pace with the department’s expenses but that is no longer the case. In the past 15 years, there has been in increase of 52 percent in costs, while the town’s payments to the department have increased only 24 percent. The department is asking for a $70,000 increase in the town’s payment, which would bring its budget up to $301,130 from the $231,130 that it was for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
In addition to maintaining the stations and the trucks, the department must meet numerous state mandates, which include annual pump testing, inspection of hoses, ladders and breathing apparatus, and medical evaluations for firefighters. The initial training cost per firefighter (basic Firefighter I course, pump operation and truck driving) is now greater than $850 a person—15 years ago it was $50.
Some of the department’s new responsibilities increased operational expenses. Carbon monoxide detection equipment is now standard. Some new residential and commercial building materials burn four times faster than the old materials and emit noxious waste products requiring new protective equipment.
Rescues at Enders Falls have increased from one, a decade ago to five in 2015, necessitating the purchase of stokes stretchers, ice suits and other specialized equipment specific to that type of rescue.
The fire trucks must be replaced about every 20 years; some of LAFD’s are older than that, one being 24 years at this point. There are seven trucks in the department: three pumpers, one brush truck, one tanker, one rescue and one special operations truck used for the gear and equipment that doesn’t fit on the other trucks.
The communication system is more than 20 years old. When repairs are needed, parts are often no longer available and repair costs have increased substantially.
Personal protection equipment that the firefighters wear cost $800 in 2000; in 2015, it cost $2,200. This does not include the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that supplies air to the firefighters, protecting them from smoke and heat. An SCBA for one firefighter costs over $3,000.
The LAFD has instituted many activities to help reduce these costs. It performs in-house maintenance whenever possible on the stations, the trucks and equipment; it solicits discounts from suppliers; it buys in bulk if appropriate, including with surrounding towns; it has a mutual aid agreement with surrounding towns to send equipment and personnel when needed; and it applies for grants from the town, state and federal governments. (Gifts from private citizens are greatly appreciated.)
In spite of doing everything it can to keep expenses in check, the LAFD needs the extra $70,000 they are requesting. This amount would show up in residents’ taxes as less than $75 per home per year.