Selectmen concerned about fire department payroll being over budget

Posted Nov. 21, 2011, at 2:23 p.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — The selectmen questioned Sangerville Fire Chief Chuck Beane recently as to why the department’s payroll was $5,936 over the budgeted $24,000. This was the second consecutive year that the fire department payroll had exceeded its budget.

Beane explained that in 2010 the department was only $1,267 over its payroll budget, but a sharp increase in training hours had drastically increased expenditures in 2011. In previous years, each fireman trained for 24 hours a year to maintain his certification, but town officials learned following an 2010 audit of town records that this was the wrong procedure.

Beane was notified that an individual firefighter’s training was determined by his duties, not a set number of training hours. This required some Sangerville firefighters to train as many 90 hours per year if they are involved in the more dangerous aspects of firefighting.

“We found out that we were doing it wrong,” Beane said. “There are no set number of training hours for a firefighter. It depends on what their jobs are. In some cases 24 hours isn’t enough for those who enter a burning building or climb the fire truck ladder.”

This requirement resulted in the average number of training hours for the 30 Sangerville firefighters to rise from 24 to 42 hours per year. The total number of training hours increased from 682 in 2010 to 1,259 in 2011.

The selectmen wanted Beane to take further steps to prevent the fire department from exceeding its budgeted payroll in the future. The board requested that fewer firefighters respond to emergency calls and not pay junior firefighters as a way to reduce department expenditures.

Beane responded that he understood the board’s concern, but those two recommendations would have a negative impact on recruiting and retaining firefighters.

“That’s not going to happen,” Beane said. “This is how they learn to become firefighters and state law permits it. And I’m not in favor of sending firefighters home who respond to a call.”

The board also said the budget committee needs to increase funding for training in the future. The selectmen also considered paying the firemen twice a year instead of once. This change would assist town officials in better monitoring the department’s payroll budget.

The board will meet next at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, in the community room.

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