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Granite Quarry fire chief asks town board for more manpower

GRANITE QUARRY — Granite Quarry Fire Chief Dale Brown told town officials Friday that his department faces a critical shortage in staff.

“We’ve recently had some calls that went unanswered,” Brown said. “It’s gotten critical in my mind. We have to get it addressed.”

Brown, whose department has only three full-time paid firefighters, said one of those men had to go home because of the flu on a recent day. His absence opened up a two-hour window in which the department wasn’t staffed, and during that time a medical emergency call came in.

Faith Fire Department, which provides mutual aid for Granite Quarry, answered that call, Brown said, but the situation points to the need for increased manpower. Brown noted this is the first time he has ever come to the board for more positions.

The ultimate goal would be to have three paid Fire Department employees at the station 24 hours a day, for a total of at least nine full-time positions, Brown said. Or there might be a way for part-time funding to accomplish the same kind of coverage, the chief added.

If there is one firefighter at the station, he can answer a medical emergency. But a fire call requires a minimum crew of three firefighters. At present, if a fire call comes in, the one paid person waits for two volunteer members to show up so they can respond.

Speaking to the Board of Aldermen at its retreat Friday, Brown outlined a three-year plan to increase staffing that would have a total cost of $350,080, including $70,080 for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Brown said he could apply for federal grants to defray some of the costs initially.

“I wanted to get it in front of you and let you know what we’re working toward,” Brown told the board.

Brown also described for aldermen how difficult it has become in recent years to staff fire departments with volunteers. With the hundreds of hours of training required to become a certified firefighter, Brown said, if he has 20 volunteer applicants, two or three might stick with the training to the end.

Part-time firefighters, while important, have more reasons sometimes not to cover a shift for which they are scheduled, according to Brown.

Alderman John Linker said he was concerned that the Fire Department has a million dollars worth of equipment parked at the station, “and we can’t get it out the door?”

“That’s very scary to me,” Linker said.

Alderman Jim Costantino agreed.

“One thing I expect as a citizen is to have police and fire protection,” Costantino said. “We have to figure this out.”

Cress said he understands how the training time necessary to become a certified firefighter has really hurt departments that heavily count on volunteers.

“Let’s make it very clear,” Cress said. “It’s not just Granite Quarry.”

Linker was “just throwing it out there,” but he asked whether thought had been given to a joint fire department with Faith, for example. The two towns already have a joint police authority.

“Those are definitely options I’d be willing to explore,” Brown said.

During the first morning of their two-day retreat, aldermen also heard from Police Chief Mark Cook, Maintenance Director Jason Hord and Shelly Shockley, who helps with the Parks, Events and Recreation Committee.

Cook told aldermen his police authority needs to replace the handguns officers are using now. All of those guns are 10-plus years old. “This is something we have been discussing in the department for quite some time,” Cook said.

Cook put the replacement cost for nine guns at $3,600, but he said the total cost could be significantly reduced if the department does not buy new guns but replaces a lot of the moving parts in the current weapons.

All full-time officers are issued handguns. Part-time officers must purchase their own guns, whose parameters are similar to those used by full-timers.

Other Police Authority budget requests are a new replacement vehicle ($37,500 fully equipped), two radar units ($4,500), a covert radar unit ($3,200), optic sights for rifles ($3,200) and self-hosted software for the officers’ body cameras ($5,500).

On parks and recreation, Shockley presented aldermen with two proposals. One was to buy a blow-up 18.5-foot movie screen, projector and speakers so the town can better show movies in Civic Park. The total cost would be about $1,000, Shockley said.

The town rents those items now.

The second proposal was for the installation of a veterans memorial at the Legion Building. All told, the cost of the 5-foot-tall memorial of polished black granite, a gray granite base, American flag benches and landscaping to go with it would be about $12,000.

The monument would recognize five branches of the military and be part of a 28-foot-wide circle with a path of gray gravel, Shockley said. She hoped a memorial could be in place by Veterans Day.

Town board members liked the idea of the memorial, but they suggested it be placed in a more visible place — Granite Lake Park on North Salisbury Avenue (U.S. 52).

Linker first brought up the issue of visibility and wondered if there were any room in a corner of Granite Lake Park.

“I’m like John,” Costantino said. “Who’s going to see it (at the Legion building)?”

The Legion Building is on Legion Street in a residential area off Peeler Street. The town owns the building.

Cress said the north picnic area of Granite Lake Park “would be perfect” for a veterans memorial. He suggested asking Granite Quarry Civitans for help, and Mayor Bill Feather said a fundraising effort might be in order, giving people a chance to buy elements such as the benches.

Hord, in going over some needs in the Maintenance Department, also cited a manpower shortage. The department has three full-time employees and one part-timer. Hord would like to replace the part-time position with a full-time slot.

Hord’s department also is seeking a 28-foot Sky Lift scissors-type attachment for its Bobcat. It would allow town crews to put up and take down Christmas lights and downtown banners, replace lights at the parks, prune trees and access roofs.

The town has to outsource and pay for some of those jobs now at $450 to $600 a day. The cost of the attachment would be $16,995.

In addition, Hord wants a used 2008 leaf vacuum for his department. The 30-yard-capacity machine would cost $20,000.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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