Long-standing volunteer department faces closure in NH

By Dan O'Brien
The Union Leader

WEARE, N.H. — The town's long-standing all-volunteer fire department could soon end.

Town officials plan to ask voters to fund two, full-time per diem emergency medical technicians.

The request comes after fire chiefs from surrounding towns complained their resources are being depleted by constantly responding to medical emergencies in Weare, where no EMT-certified volunteers are available during the day on weekdays.

Neighboring fire departments say they'll charge Weare $1,000 per ambulance call if it doesn't come up with a solution.

Weare's population has grown rapidly in the past decade, with just over 7,700 residents in 2000, according to the census, to an estimated 10,000 people now.

Fire chiefs from New Boston, Goffstown and Dunbarton are expected to attend a meeting this morning with the Weare Board of Fire Wards to discuss a solution to the mutual aid drain, which they say sometimes results in extremely slow response times.

"As firemen... we don't turn our back on anybody, but now it's becoming an impact on every other town," New Boston Fire Chief Dan McDonald said. "We're missing our own calls."

McDonald said two EMTs are required to handle medical calls. He recalled one instance in Weare when a woman with a heart problem waited nearly an hour for a second EMT to arrive.

"Luckily it wasn't life-threatening," he said.

Town officials say they're working fast to come up with solutions after the surrounding towns threatened to charge for every mutual aid ambulance call, which could amount to an estimated $80,000 annually.

"We were put on notice that if we don't do something, they're going to have to start charging," Town Administrator Naomi Bolton said.

The town is applying for the federally-funded Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant (SAFER), which would pay for the EMT positions for two years if Weare was awarded funding.

However, according to Tom Clow, chairman of the Board of Selectman, the SAFER grant money is not a guarantee and, even if it was, the town would have to pay for the EMTs after two years.

"The SAFER grant application is due Jan. 15. It's a competitive grant and there is no assurance it will go to Weare," Clow said.

The town also plans to place a warrant article on the ballot this spring that would authorize officials to use money from a fire and rescue equipment reserve fund to pay for the EMTs. Officials wouldn't have to dip into the fund for two years if the SAFER grant is awarded.

Bolton says having the new EMTs would be good for the town.

"I think the residents of Weare are going to benefit," Bolton said. "Right now we don't have any daytime staffing." Clow says he's not sure if voters will approve the proposed warrant articles after similar articles — one to fund EMTs and another to change the fire chief's position from part-time to full-time — have failed in the past two years.

"Last year, virtually nothing passed," Clow said. "Weare has a history of not approving budgets. We've lived on default budgets for many, many years."

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