SALISBURY — The process of bringing the Fire Department into the 21st century will begin Monday morning when five part-time firefighters become full-time employees.
Eleven of the department’s 19 firefighters work on a part-time basis, creating what Town Manager Neil Harrington called a “hybrid fire department.”
Thanks to an appropriation of $130,000, approved by Town Meeting voters in October, five of those firefighters will now work 42 hours a week.
“This is the first step in eventually going to a full-time department,” Harrington said. “This will also recalibrate the staffing patterns so we can break up the rank and file into specific groups.”
Succeeding longtime Chief Rick Souliotis, Fire Chief Scott Carrigan came to town from the Nashua Fire Department in July and immediately started bringing Salisbury Fire up to his speed.
With some of his part-time firefighters working a 24-hour weekly shift and others working 28 hours, Carrigan wanted to bolster his ranks by reclassifying as many of his part-timers to full-time employees as possible.
“This is just a slight increase in the hours,” Carrigan said. “But it will make a big difference in the amount of coverage that we get around the clock.”
Awarded by seniority, the new full-time positions will go to five firefighters working 28 hours a week, Carrigan said.
“Some of the firefighters who have been part time for a considerable amount of time are now choosing to go full time,” Carrigan said. “In one case, we have an individual who has been on the department for approximately 30 years. In another, it is someone who I believe has been here for around 17 years.
This was very high up on my list of priorities,” he added. “I should also say that we are making every effort to change to a regular fire department. This is what this process is. I am taking part-time firefighters, turning them into full-time firefighters but that does not mean I am going to backfill the open part-time positions.”
With his new staffing plan in place, Carrigan said he intends to divide the full-time staff into four work groups that will allow them to work with the same personnel each time.
“This will be a lot easier for them to grow as a team,” Carrigan said. “This will allow them to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to know to work together more efficiently.”
Harrington said establishing work groups would give firefighters a sense of cohesion and make sure each shift has an officer running it.
“Right now, we have lieutenants and captains on a somewhat random schedule,” Harrington said. “You have two officers on the nights and some schedules have no officers on. The chief is synchronizing the schedule so that each group will stay together and be supervised by either a lieutenant or a captain.”
Harrington said he hopes to see the department become completely full time at some point.
“That won’t be for a while but at some time in the future,” Harrington said. “The ($130,000) will cover a year’s cost and then we will have to roll it into next year’s budget.”
Voters also approved an additional $40,000 to assist the Fire Department in renovating its Lafayette Road headquarters now that the dispatch operators have moved to the new police station on Bridge Road.
Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.