Watertown Fire Chief Wants To Hire More Firefighters

Watertown Fire Chief Wants To Hire More Firefighters

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Watertown Fire Chief Dale Herman says hiring new firefighters could help reduce overtime costs. But he also says it's not just about money; the amount of overtime worked is a matter of public safety.

"I'm concerned about the amount of overtime that our personnel are working that it may become unsafe at some point in time," said Herman.

He says between people leaving and two firefighters getting injured during a fire on Newell Street last month, the need is definitely there.

"What I would recommend would be four personnel to be hired, to take care of the two people that retired and the two people that we don't expect anytime soon. That would curtail the amount of overtime," said Herman.

Herman says the department is about 18 people smaller than it was five years ago and that last year the average firefighter was working more than five hours of overtime a week.

Not only is that costly, but he says it's a safety concern, which he brought up to council Monday night.

"I can imagine if we had this same issue with the police officers, if they were working on an average of eight hours of overtime every week, they'd be pretty fatigued, so I think that's got to be a legitimate concern," said Cody Horbacz, council member.

One option is the SAFER Grant, a government grant which helps cover the costs of hiring firefighters. The city has turned it down in the past.

"I think the city turned it down before because of the contract dispute, but I think we really need to look at it again because it certainly would reduce the city's expenses along with it," said Lisa Ruggiero, council member.

Chief Herman says the SAFER Grant application opens up in the spring. Ruggiero says she plans to encourage council to apply.

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