Public safety heads seek more staffing

ELLSWORTH — The need for additional personnel was the common theme at the latest City Council budget workshop on May 2. The fire and police departments both requested the creation of an additional position in their budgets for FY 2023.

Fire Chief Scott Guillerault, in his first budget presentation before the council, requested an additional firefighter be hired in January 2023 to make sure all shifts are fully staffed.

“In the previous years, you’ve added a fifth firefighter to two of our shifts, so we’re short one on the third shift,” Guillerault explained. “We’d like to get everybody even across the board so that staffing has parity across the board.”

The department is also waiting to hear back about a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant that would allow it to bring in three additional firefighters, bringing staffing levels for each shift up to six. FEMA will begin to distribute those funds later this summer and will distribute them until the money runs out, but there is no guarantee that the city will be part of that distribution.

Guillerault clarified after the meeting that it was important to have six firefighters per shift to help the department handle EMS calls. The department is legally bound to respond to nearly every call after the city licensed it as an emergency medical services agency in 2020. That was done to cover liability issues from firefighters assisting Northern Light Medical Transport.

“I always send a minimum of two people out for a medical call,” Guillerault explained. “With six people on a shift, that would leave four people behind to either respond to a second medical call or constitute a firefighting force, since having four people available for fire suppression is the standard around the country.”

It was also noted at the meeting that the additional position would only raise the personnel line item in the Fire Department budget by $6,000 due to an increase in younger, less experienced firefighters in the department who earn lower wages than their more experienced counterparts.

Police Chief and City Manager Glenn Moshier was not looking for an additional officer in his budget, but an additional employee in dispatch, which is actually a budget shared by police and fire.

“Our dispatch service has remained unchanged throughout the growth that we’ve experienced in EMS and 911 calls,” Moshier said. “The job that we have those folks doing in there, one person answering telephones and radios for all emergency services … is becoming really overwhelming for that one individual person.”

After analyzing call data, Moshier said the determination was made that adding a second dispatcher at the highest volume call times would not only provide significant relief to the one person operating currently, but also ensure that the dispatch office was providing the highest level of service possible.

“EMS numbers alone are enough to occupy a full-time position,” said Moshier, “let alone the responsibility of answering for police and fire.”

It would also provide the department with more flexibility in scheduling. Currently there are three employees who cover two eight-hour shifts, seven days a week.

“If one of them is out for any reason we only have two people to draw from to fill that vacant shift without relying on patrol officers,” Moshier said.

The Hancock County Regional Communications Center currently handles emergency calls for Ellsworth between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but they are not equipped to take on the additional volume if the city decided to use them for dispatch services full time, Moshier explained.

As a reminder, no official decisions are made at these budget workshops. These sessions simply give councilors an opportunity to review the proposed budgets and ask questions of the individual department heads who put them together.

The next workshop, scheduled for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m., will focus on the School Department budget. After that, the council will take a break from budget hearings to hold its full monthly council meeting on May 16.

Zachary Lanning

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don't hold against him. Email him at [email protected].

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