By Matt Austin
January 22, 2024
NBC Universal, Inc.

Southington firefighters and their supporters pushed for changes they say will improve safety. They’re concerned that at times, the number of people going out on a truck for a call can be too low and potentially dangerous.

On Monday, firefighters turned up the heat as contract negotiations drag on with the town, and it could soon be headed to arbitration. “This is the fight of our careers and we’re not giving up,” Edwin Crandall, IAFF Local 2033 president, said.

Southington firefighters, colleagues from around the state and community members showed up in force at a town council meeting. “It’s really your responsibility to make sure our husbands, fathers, brothers, sons come home safe to us. I, don’t make me the one to tell, ‘Hey, daddy isn’t coming home,’” Rachel Girouard, a wife of a firefighter, said.

Firefighters say they’ve been without a contract for more than two and a half years. And they argue a sticking point in negotiations is firefighters would like a minimum of three people on a truck, which they say the town now allows to drop to two people many times at fire headquarters. “We are certainly understaffed. It’s a safety issue for my people. It’s a safety issue for the public and we’re not able to perform the tasks that we need to perform,” Crandall said.

The union said a study found they should actually work toward four people on an apparatus. While some area departments do that, we’re told three is common nearby. “You need a supervisor. You have a driver and you need another firefighter to safely start an operation with at least three people to get something done,” Peter Brown, Uniformed Fire Fighters Association president, said.

The town council chairman said he’s limited in what he can say because negotiations are underway, but he addressed the overall concerns about safety. “I’ve met with the town manager. He’s assured me we are in a good place,” Paul Chaplinsky, R – Southington Town Council chairman, said.

The chairman said they’ve made investments in the department, including setting aside more than $300,000 for equipment and facility improvements on Monday. “Overall the Southington community is generally supportive of our safety personnel,” Chaplinsky said.

Firefighters said the town is saving about a quarter-million dollars by the current staffing practices. The first arbitration hearing is set for early February