In response to rising call volume and an increasing city population, the Watertown Fire Department is requesting funds to be allocated in the 2017 budget to fill personnel vacancies and construct a new station.
Fire Chief Greg Michalek said over the past five years call volume has increased 33 percent. According to the documents containing the department's monthly run averages, it has had an increase in service calls every year since 2011. 2015 marked another record year with 2471 calls.
"You've got an older population that's only getting older and that requires more care," Michalek said. "Fire responses have gone up exponentially as well." Since 2010, the department has operated three positions short of a full staff. According to a report Michalek presented to the finance committee Monday, the lack of personnel is the greatest challenge the department faces. The department currently staffs two shifts of seven firefighters and one of six. Accounting for time taken off due to vacation and holiday time, the department operates with a reduced crew more than 75 percent of the time. Earlier this year, Michalek applied for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant offered through FEMA. The grant provides funds directly to fire departments for the hiring of additional firefighters on a renewable two-year basis. The grant would substantially assist the department in acquiring the $196,000 required to hire three new firefighters. FEMA is currently awarding the funds but it is not yet known if Watertown will be a recipiant.