Borough fire chief seeks $40,000 for equipment

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NAUGATUCK — The fire department is requesting nearly $40,000 from the borough’s contingency fund for new hydraulic extrication tools, commonly known as the Jaws of Life.

“I know what the financial situation of Naugatuck is,” Fire Chief Ken Hanks said. “There are certain needs of the department that need to be met regardless of the financial situation.”

Firefighters say they have had trouble with two extrications this year because of outdated tools that cannot cut through the metals of newer cars. Recently, it took firefighters 20 minutes to extract someone from an accident on Maple Street, when it would’ve taken five minutes with the new equipment, Hanks said.

The existing equipment is 20 years old, he said.

After testing sets of tools from three different companies, firefighters decided to ask for two new cutters and units that supply hydraulic power to them, Hanks said. The tools they want are made by Hurst, a North Carolina-based company that the borough fire department bought its tools from decades ago.

Hanks said he talked with Controller Wayne McAllister, who recommended he request $39,500 from the contingency fund for the new tools. Hanks said he subsequently calculated the department might only need $36,280 for the tools, including accessories.

Hanks originally planned for the department to buy the tools using surplus funds from the budget year that ended Thursday, but the department now has a deficit between $5,000 and $10,000, Hanks said.

The department had to pay retired Fire Chief Charles Doback about $40,000 for unused sick and vacation time this year, Hanks said. Firefighters also had to be paid overtime to fill in for a position that was vacant for 10 months due to a retirement, and another that was vacant for five months while a firefighter took sick leave.

The department also had unanticipated vehicle repair costs, Hanks said.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted Tuesday to refer the request to their joint meeting with the Board of Finance next Tuesday, although some expressed reservations.

The budget is up for referendum in two weeks and if it is voted down, further cuts will have to be made, some pointed out.

“I don’t know how you approve a contingency transfer from a budget that’s not adopted yet,” Burgess Ronald S. San Angelo said.

The most recent budget proposal includes a $375,000 contingency fund, which is mostly used for overtime and winter storm expenses, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said. Approving the fire department’s request could deplete the fund by about 10 percent in the first month of the fiscal year.

“That’s not a practice that the joint boards have done very often,” Mezzo said. “I think they’re entitled to that discussion.”