Guilford eyes more cops, firefighters

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 12, 2008

GUILFORD — Police and fire officials say they are seeing a rise in calls for service from town residents, and are asking for more staff members in the town’s 2008-09 budget.

The Police Department is looking for one additional officer and the Fire D epartment would like to add four firefighters, according to department heads.

The Board of Selectmen is still reviewing budget requests from the town’s departments, and is scheduled to present a preliminary budget to the Board of Finance on Thursday.

Police Chief Thomas Terribile said that a number of new and proposed developments in Guilford — including the recently approved “rock pile” shopping center and several residential areas — have him looking for more staff.

The department currently has 38 budgeted positions, including Terribile, but one of the spots is empty. In addition, one officer is on maternity leave and two are in the police academy.

It takes at least six months, including the police academy and field training in Guilford, before a new recruit can be on the road alone. New officers begin at a salary of about $46,000.

Terribile is hoping to fill the empty position and add another officer, to bring the total up to 39. He recently reduced the number of detectives to two from three, moving one person onto the evening patrol shift. Adding another officer would allow him to raise the minimum number of people on each shift, he added.

“Evenings lately can be very busy,” he said. “We’ve seen an increase over the last three years because of the development. Because of the increase in population, it’s stretched us a little thin.”

Terribile said the department gets calls about domestic complaints mainly during the evening shift, and those types of calls require at least two officers to respond to them.

The department has mainly seen an increase in what it refers to as the “middle sector,” Terribile said, between Route 1 and Route 80. That is currently one patrol area for the department, but Terribile is proposing to cut it into two sectors, one on either side of Route 77.

“One thing that’s nice about Guilford is we have that quality of life, and we don’t want to lower that at all,” he said.

With the Fire Department continuing a multi-year transition from a volunteer to paid staff, Fire Commission Chairman Joe Travaglino said officials want to add one firefighter to each of the department’s four shifts. That would bring the total number of firefighters to 24, from the current level of 20.

A first-year firefighter earns about $40,000 a year, Assistant Chief Wayne Vetre said.

Travaglino said the department currently has five people on each shift, and the hope is to eventually increase to eight. Last year, the town also added four firefighters.

“Each time we add, it increases the safety of the firefighters that are working,” he said. “It helps with the response time to multiple calls that we have.”

When there is more than one call at a time, Travaglino said, the department puts out a call to volunteer and off-duty paid firefighters for assistance.

There are about 60 volunteers, he said, but their availability has decreased in many cases. Travaglino estimated that Guilford relies on assistance from other shoreline fire departments about once a week.

“We have a very good volunteer force, but unfortunately with today’s economic conditions, when the calls are coming in, a young man, what does he do? Does he go fight a fire, or does he do his second job so he can have a few more bucks to take care of the things his family needs?” Travaglino asked. “Throughout New England, I think you’re finding that this is an issue.”

Guilford started transitioning to a paid force about four years ago.

The Fire Department saw about 3,000 calls for service in 2007, Travaglino said, up from about 2,700 in 2006.

The department is requesting about a $2 million budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which is partly offset by about $850,000 it takes in every year for ambulance service.

“Safety code calls for you to have so many people at a fire scene,” he said, “but at the same time, if you’ve got a call somewhere else and maybe someone’s having a heart attack or there’s a car accident and you need the ambulance … it becomes kind of unmanageable for the hierarchy of the department to get all these things covered.”

The Board of Finance is scheduled to vote on the town and Board of Education budgets on March 13. The town referendum on the budget is set for April 8.

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