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Editorial: Time to take a look at fire services

It’s probably time to take a look at the overall fire protection in the region and how that service is provided.

The area is carved into a multitude of districts with taxing authority, and each one does the job the best way it knows how. It seems that some districts are faring well, and others are close to bankruptcy.

We are not saying that there is a lack of cooperation or communication, just that each district has its own set of challenges and funding resources. Each one appears to buy equipment needed for its department to fight a fire, regardless of what equipment is available a few miles away.

One could argue that in the case of two simultaneous emergencies that is a necessity. But is it?

Would an overall review point to a better way of sharing resources, a better way of staging of equipment or a better way to marshal firefighters? And who would pay for the study?

We would leave the funding decision to our state legislators. They should take the lead on that front. But a study would probably be a good idea from the standpoint of firefighters and taxpayers.

Undertaking such a study is rife with political problems, the least of which are the boundaries and responsibilities carved out by each district. They are all different, and each has its own set of what-if scenarios like old mills, train stations, multi-story buildings and an interstate to consider.

But what most districts share is the need for funding and attracting volunteers not only to respond to emergencies at night, but emergencies during the day when most volunteers are working.

At 53-years-old, the Quiambaug Fire Company on 50 Old Stonington Road, Stonington, services a relatively small area east of downtown Mystic. The department, which has about 23 volunteers, responds to 1,300 calls per year, mostly medical in nature. The station is located less than 1.5-miles from the Mystic Fire Station on Broadway.

For the last 18 months, Quiambaug has struggled with providing daytime coverage and managing its increasing paperwork. What was estimated to cost $140,000, has mistakenly led to a $292,000 tax increase. In response, district taxpayers have stopped plans to hire help and asked the board to write a job description and qualifications for the position. They also want a detailed budget, and want their board to examine working with other fire districts.

In comparison, the Mystic Fire Department at 34 Broadway Ave. and 52 New London Road, has a paid chief, deputy chief and about 40 volunteers. It seems to be in good shape.

However, in the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District in Groton, residents voted to approve a budget; now budgetary problems have put the district on the verge of bankruptcy. As a result, one of the district’s two firehouses has been vacated, and district officials are pleading for assistance from the state.

In comparison, the 176-year-old Old Mystic Fire Department is doing well. It has five full time career staff, two full time administrators and 25 volunteers.

What this tells us is that it is time to study the situation and come up with ideas that help everyone provide the type of emergency services that taxpayers want and can afford. It’s in the best interest of everyone.

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