BRUNSWICK — Firefighters continue to be worried about inadequate department staffing as negotiations over the fiscal year 2020 municipal budget continue. 

Those who are concerned include Fire Chief Ken Brillant, who proposed increasing his staff next year by four crew members, or one firefighter per shift. That would ensure that eight firefighters are on duty at all times for the town of nearly 20,000 people.

Additionally, Brillant included an enforcement inspector who would oversee multi-unit buildings. 

“I am rather optimistic that my proposals for more staff will be approved,” the chief said. But even with that optimism, Brillant said the department is”severely understaffed.”

According to the chief, the department needs “at least” 10-12 people on duty per shift.

“We need more than the four I proposed because this is a real need we have right now,” he said. “But, I realize we aren’t the only part of the budget.”

A public hearing on the combined spending plan will be held May 2. The full budget will be considered for adoption by the Town Council on May 13.

Any staff increase would be the first in “at least nine years,” Brillant said, adding the department was fully staffed for only 22 days in 2018.

At this point, Brunswick employs 32 firefighters who hold EMT licenses ranging from basic to paramedic. That should be enough for a full staff, but when vacation and sick time is factored in, the department is left short-handed. 

“Ideally, we are supposed to have eight people on each shift,” Brillant said. “But we haven’t had the resources for that.”

In 2017, Brillant said the department was fully staffed for just less than 40 days of the year.

Capt. Matt Barnes, president of the Brunswick Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1719, on Monday said any staff increase is welcome, although he believes the town needs more firefighters than the four that are proposed.

“I appreciate that the town is trying to lessen the burden on the taxpayers by having a modest budget,” Barnes said. “We know what the burden to taxpayers would be if we added that much staff. I am a taxpayer here in Brunswick and I wouldn’t want to pay high taxes. But our job is to save and protect the residents of this town and it is hard to do when we lack the amount of staff we realistically need.”

In contrast, the city of South Portland responded to approximately the same number of calls last year, nearly 4,600. However, the department has more than  60 firefighters, twice as many as Brunswick. 

Barnes said although the budget is different every year, there will “hopefully” be a multi-year staffing plan in place at some point.

The first employee on a shift to take vacation or sick time is not replaced, according to policy, but the second person out is covered through overtime, Brillant said. This means that every shift is staffed with a minimum of seven firefighters.

“I don’t think the community quite understands what this department is facing,” Barnes said. “All we want is a fully staffed department so we can do our jobs effectively and protect the citizens in this town.”

Patti McDonald can be reached at 780-9123 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @pmcdonaldme.

Although Brunswick Fire Chief Kenneth Brillant has proposed adding four new firefighters to the department, he’s still concerned that the department is short-staffed.

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