The Representative Town Committee restored none of the funds requested by the Fire Department. Fire Chief Christopher Ackley now has to figure out how to make do without the $150,000 he was asking for. "We're going to have to do some belt tightening," said Ackley. "There will be some reductions in services."
Ackley said the budget restoration he requested was necessary to cover overtime costs needed to call back firefighters to staff the engines in the event another firefighter can't report for duty. His goal is to eventually place three firefighters on each engine. Current staffing levels only allow for two. Figuring out how to keep each of Westport's four firehouses staffed without an overtime budget to make sure at least two people are always available is Ackley's new challenge. "If someone gets sick, I can't send out an engine with one person on it," he said.
"They are still short on staff," said RTM member Ann Marie Flynn. "Usually the first response to an alarm is firefighters. They really need three. Try putting two firefighters into a 10,000 square foot home, it is really quite roomy."
The Board of Finance initially cut $223,485 from the Fire Department budget. After the $150,000 restoration failed by a vote of 15 to 18, another vote was initiated by Stephen Rubin for $64,000. That attempt failed by three votes.
"We didn't give the money to the police," said RTM member Joyce Colburn. "These are such important priorities. Where are our priorities?" The Police Department was denied a $73,370 restoration on Monday, May 3. Police Chief Alfred Fiore said that cut would lead to service reductions.
Ackley said the RTM has been supportive in the past and he wasn't sure how they would react this year. "Nobody is being malicious about this," said Ackley. "My job is to protect the people and protect my firefighters."
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