Fire Chief Michael Cassidy presented the case for a stipend increase to the Board of Selectmen last night. His point was that for all of the time firefighters spend on call and in training they deserve a higher stipend amount.
"In order to maintain our staffing model, we need a compensation package which reflects the sacrifices these professionals make throughout the year," Cassidy said. "Even with the proposed increase, our personnel costs would still be a fraction of the costs of other nearby departments, while providing many times more coverage and true surge capacity."
The proposed increase he spoke about worked out to roughly $1 per hour each firefighter is on call, calculated out the chief said the total increase would be $214,000 per year.
Cassidy also brought up previous increases in stipends the firefighters had received in 2007 and 2008 saying that the plan was for the increases to continue at least one more year.
Several firefighters were in attendance including Lieutenant Mark Heavner who spoke up in support of the increased stipends.
"The Fire Department is long overdue for this," Heavner said. "This is something we negotiated with a previous board and for whatever reason we did not get."
While the selectmen agreed that the firefighters perform their duty, the form of an increase was called in to question.
One option that the Selectmen presented was a lower increase to the stipends combined with an increase to the hourly rate the firefighters make while responding to calls.
In addition the board discussed putting some of the money toward post-employment benefits such as life insurance and healthcare premiums of retired firefighters.
"The issue is if and when and how we can do this so that it is fair for everyone," Selectman Jay Leary said.
Discussions are continuing between the Selectmen and the Fire Department. The Finance Committee is also involved in the discussion to figure out what they believe is the best way to compensate the firefighters for their work. There is a meeting scheduled at the fire station to discuss the issue further on Oct. 15 at 9 p.m.
What do you think? Should firefighters be given the money based on their general responsibilities such as being on call and attending training, or should the increase be focused more on time spent responding to incidents and looking toward the future. Share your opinion in the comments.