Firefighter ranks on the rise


NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Fire Department may soon be fully staffed for the first time in a few of years.

The department recently hired two firefighters who don’t need to be sent to the academy for training.

One of the firefighters, who has already started, was previously employed by the department, Fire Chief Ellen Murray said.

Murray said he left the department about eight months ago, shortly after being hired, when he moved out of the state.

“We are happy to have him back,” Murray said. “He is one of our new firefighters that we have put a lot of money into.”

The other hire is already a certified firefighter from another town, Murray said. He was expected to start once his background check and medical exam are completed.

The proposed 2016-17 budget included $102,600 to train the two new hires, but that is unnecessary since they don’t need training.

While discussing the budget last week, the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance decided to keep the $102,600 in the budget and hire two additional firefighters to send to the firefighter academy in August. The proposed budget allotted for only two new firefighters.

Once the additional firefighters have completed their training, the department will have its full complement of 41 firefighters, Murray said.

Over the past few years, the department has had numerous firefighters retire, including many with more than 20 years of experience.

The department has also been dealing with a trend of newly-hired firefighters, who the borough paid to train, leaving for other departments that offer a pension plan.

Over the past few years, the borough negotiated a change in retirement plans for all new municipal employees. All new municipal employees are now offered defined contribution retirement plans, similar to a 401 (K) in the private sector, rather than defined benefit pension plans. Under the defined contribution retirement plans, the employee and the employer contribute to the employee’s retirement. The change was made in order to save the borough money in the long term.

Controller Robert Butler said having a full complement of firefighters will help with overtime issues at the department.

According to Butler, the department went over its $850,000 overtime budget by 23 percent, or approximately $195,000, in the 2015-16 fiscal year. He felt not hiring two additional firefighters could cost the borough more in overtime.

“If we make any changes [to the budget] and there are any new firefighters that leave we are going to put ourselves right in the hole again,” Butler said.

In addition to having enough firefighters to cover shifts, the department will also see a decrease in overtime when firefighters take vacations, Murray said.

Veteran firefighters can take up to five weeks of vacation a year, Murray said. Newly-hired firefighters do not receive any vacation their first year and only two weeks after their first year.

“So that makes a big difference,” Murray said.