First, it was setting the decorative lights on Park Avenue on a timer. Next, it was removing the Portsmouth Fire Department's request for more than $97,000 in overtime. Now, the town is looking at its next step to saving money in the proposed 2012 budget — replacing firefighters with "civilian dispatchers."
Town Administrator Robert Driscoll presented an early version of the proposal Tuesday night before the Portsmouth Town Council. Driscoll says the proposal, which is agreed upon by both the Portsmouth Fire Department's union and chief, would save an estimated $91,000 in the proposed budget.
The part-time dispatchers would receive an hourly rate of $20 with, if any, minimal benefits. Compared to a firefighter’s salary, this would save the town money, Driscoll said. The program would likely begin on Oct. 1.
The firefighters, who previously served as dispatchers, would remain as members of the department. This would increase the number of firefighters responding to emergencies.
This “civilian dispatch” would be manned ideally by retired firefighters with medical experience, according to Driscoll.
According to Finance Director David Faucher, it is unknown how many dispatchers would be employed. However, Portsmouth Fire Chief Jeffrey Lynch said he would like to employ eight part-time dispatchers.
“That would eliminate all the overtime for vacancies on two shifts,” Lynch said. “It’s my hope this is part of the long-term plan to get more firefighters on the street.”
Driscoll is also proposing eliminating the position of a second deputy chief, a position currently vacant after a retirement, and replacing it with a new training captain. This change would save an estimated $16,000.
The council provisionally approved the fire department’s proposed department budget with the new changes, including the funds for this program and replacement of the deputy chief. The vote was 4-3, with Judi Staven, Liz Pedro and Paul Kesson opposed.
“We will look at the issue of joint dispatch police and fire,” Driscoll said. “I will task the (police and fire) chiefs to look at the issues. There are many. If it’s positive, we can look at setting up next winter some trial runs. There’s no guarantee of success.”