Benefit for call firefighters approved

By Christine Wallgren, Globe Correspondent | June 17, 2004

CARVER — Annual Town Meeting voters on Monday unanimously endorsed a program that will award veteran call firefighters monthly benefit payments at age 65. Carver Fire Chief Dana Harriman called the vote ”a very solid step toward perpetuating a call firefighting system long into the future in Carver.”

Under the service award program, firefighters with 20 years of service will receive $200 each month and those with 30 years will receive $300. Harriman said the benefits will ”encourage our senior members to stay with the department and preserve that institutional memory.” He said the program also serves as a management tool, since firefighters will be required to attend drills and respond to a set number of emergencies during a year to count toward the service total. Harriman said he expects those minimum standards to be set by early next month.

The department, with an annual budget of about $350,000, has 65 call firefighters to cover 40 square miles from three fire stations. Harriman and Deputy Chief Craig Weston are the only full-time employees. Call members are paid $11 per hour, but only when they respond to emergencies.

Harriman says the cost for a staff of full-timers to serve the town of about 11,000 would easily exceed $1 million. Last year, the department answered 278 emergency calls with an average response time of 6 minutes.

The length-of-service award program, developed by a committee of local firefighters that studied ways to maintain a call system, will be underwritten by Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance of Pennsylvania. Harriman said no one will collect any service payments for at least eight years, since the oldest call firefighter is now 57. The town’s annual payment into the program will begin at $71,931, but will eventually decrease.

Based on the 65 firefighters currently with the department, the payment could be as low as $26,000 in 10 years, he said.

Harriman asked for $36,500 — covering a half year — at Monday’s meeting, to begin paying into the program in January.

According to the town clerk, 258 of the town’s 7,879 registered voters attended Town Meeting.