Milford firefighters practice their skills at drill

MILFORD – A dwindling pool of volunteer firefighters means the Milford Fire Department ‘s long tradition as a call department will eventually come to an end.

A call or on-call department means that volunteers respond to fires or other emergencies from their homes or work places when needed.

Milford’s current paid full-time positions are the chief, two captains and an office assistant.

Chief Jack Kelly said fire departments around the country are having trouble attracting volunteers.

“Nobody wants to do this job anymore,” he told the town’s capital improvement committee recently. “Everybody’s got issues with manpower.”

Committee Chairman Paul Dargie noted that Milford, with a population of about 15,000, is the largest community in New Hampshire to have a call department.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” he said, and sometime within the next 10 years the department will have to convert to a paid one.

Kelly told selectmen recently there are 36 members of the department but only an average of four show up for daytime calls and an average of nine at night.

CIP member Gil Archambault advised the chief to ask for money in the town budget to hire firefighters next year. “I wouldn’t wait,” he said. “You’re doing an impossible job.”

Kelly applied for a grant that would pay for three-quarters of the salaries of two full-time firefighters for three years.

Two years ago, to attract volunteers, an Oregon fire department offered free private bedrooms and bathrooms with utilities paid to four firefighters who agreed to respond to fire and emergency calls in the rural area.

And last week in North Dakota, a bill was introduced to help firefighters better afford housing and root them in communities.

The Milford chief also talked about plans to renovate and expand the 44-year-old School Street fire station, which he estimates would cost $3.5 million. Plans will be ready for the town deliberative session next year.

The current station has no sprinkler system or dorm space and can’t store the department’s millions of dollars worth of equipment now housed in other town buildings, Kelly said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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