SOUTHINGTON — Federal money will help train local firefighers to drive fire trucks, which town officials say will speed response times.
Not every volunteer or career firefighter is certified to drive the pump or ladder trucks. This can lead to delays, depending on which firefighters are available for a call.
“They have to either wait around (for a certified driver) or take their personal vehicle to the call, which delays personnel on scene,” said Eric Heath, the department’s assistant chief. “The more people we can get in trucks on the road, the better off we are.”
Southington firefighters applied and won a FEMA grant that’ll provide $141,000 in training for both career and volunteer firefighters in fire apparatus driver operation and maintenance qualification. The first firefighters will complete the new training in the spring, Heath said.
“This will begin addressing that issue,” he said.
Response times, particularly on the edges of town, were noted as longer that recommended in a consultant’s report from earlier this year. Fire officials have argued for more firefighters, saying putting more people in stations throughout town would bring down response times.
Starting this summer, the Milldale Fire Station on Clark Street is staffed by three career firefighters during the day. Those firefighters were funded through a similar FEMA program that funds local departments.
David Kanute, a Board of Fire Commissioners Republican and a retired emergency dispatcher, said the added training also helps involve and retain volunteers. Kanute was a volunteer firefighter and understands the sacrifice, he said.
The town has been trying to hold onto it’s shrinking pool of volunteer firefighters.
“Our aim, in these tough times with volunteers, we’re trying to do everything we can to keep the volunteer force going,” Kanute said. “The more they’re involved, the more they enjoy staying.”
He said firefighters are certified as drivers, outside firefighters and inside firefighters. There’s different training depending on the role and for inside firefighters that enter burning buildings, additional air pack training.
Kanute was pleased that local firefighters are pursuing and securing grants.
“The more training we can do, the more coverage we can get on all three things,” he said.
Christine Shanley-Buck, a fire board Democrat, was impressed at the work firefighters put into the grants which save local taxpayers money. She said the competition for this federal money is tough but Southington has won out twice recently.
“These guys do a great job of requesting grants,” Shanley-Buck said. “They’re not easy to get but they put a lot of time into it.”