Westport Firefighter: “Every Neighborhood Deserves To Be Safe”

Some of us look at Westport’s new, large homes and say “oh no!”

Others say “aaah!”

Nick Marsan sees them and thinks “uh oh!”

He’s a Westport firefighter. He knows that — with their open floor plan — new construction burns faster than old.

He also knows that — with just 2 men assigned to one engine in both the Greens Farms and Coleytown fire stations — the situation is dire.

Two men, one engine at the Greens Farms fire station.

Marsan is also president of Westport Uniformed Firefighters IAFF Local 1081.

So he’s decided to speak out.

“Family safety is our number one priority,” he says. “Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where we can no longer protect you in the way you deserve.”

A 2-person engine crew has limited responses, Marsan says. They can choose to rescue a trapped family member — no easy task, in a large house. Or they can attempt to extinguish the fire.

Marsan says national standards recommend 4 firefighters per engine, to safely battle a house fire in a 2,200 square foot residence.

Westport’s average home size is 5,500 square feet, Marsan notes. He’s asking for only 3 firefighters.

The issue dates back to 2007, he says. Town officials agreed then to 3 firefighters per truck.

But the recession hit. Faced with budget choices, politicians pulled back to 2 per truck — and changed post-retirement benefits for new hires.

The new pension plan will save Westport $40 million over the next 20 years, Marsan says.

So, he believes, “now is the time to put 3 people  on every truck, in every station. The savings are there.”

Every Westporter, he adds — regardless of where in town they live — “deserves a safe and effective response.”

The Westport Fire Department “will continue to do a very professional and dedicated job,” Marsan says.

“We just want as much safety as possible — for Westporters, ourselves, and our own families.”

28 responses to “Westport Firefighter: “Every Neighborhood Deserves To Be Safe”

  1. Adam Schwartz

    Two firefighters on an engine should be illegal. My best friend is a retired Battalion Chief from the Tucson Fire Dept and I’ve followed firefighting for over 40 years through him. Three firefighters on a truck is even debatable. Westport residents should wake up and do something about this. There safety is in jeopardy. And I would look hard at who allowed this to happen.

  2. Adam Vengrow

    This sounds nuts to not have 3 or 4 firefighters per engine. Often times, Westport feels so safe and insulated that decisions are made without thinkng of safety first. This should be fixed. If one of these new construction mansions goes up in flames, it will be quick and very nasty.

    On the same note, the town is messing with police pensions and this is going to force the great blue force we have in this town to leave. Worth a read: https://www.epi.org/blog/why-is-wealthy-westport-trying-to-gut-police-pensions/

    • Bart Shuldman

      Adam. Around CT, pension plans are being changed and revised as towns and cities confront significant budget issues. The City of Hartford made changes to their city employee benefits as they faced bankruptcy and more adjustments will probably be made. City of West Haven is doing the same.

      Westport has lost millions in state education funding and PILOT payments as the State of CT put lucrative state worker pension and medical plans over the education of our children and children around CT. Now with all the cuts Westport has endoured, costs saving measures are needed. Westport is not the only town to experience these cuts and these cost control measures such as changes to very lucrative pension plans are required.

      There is no doubt these cost controls are necessary. The next CT biannual budget starting July 1 2019 is projected at a whopping $4 BILLION. More cuts to state money to Westport will occur and worse, and we should expect the state to force Westport to absorb some of the state costs. At the end, Westport fill face cost increases that will drive property taxes higher. Seniors in Westport will feel it the most.

      The pensions plans are still very lucrative and nothing compared to the private sector. The police pension plan is more than fair, it is still above anything in the private sector.

      I believe in the Westport police force but changes to their pension and medical plans must be made. They will not be the only police force in CT to experience these changes.

      It’s a new world given the state’s budget crisis. Become part of the solution. Westport taxpayers have dealt with huge state income tax increases and also increases in our property taxes since 2011. The fiscal crisis in CT will impaCT everyone. Including our wonderful police force.

      • Harry Smiley

        A lot of towns have resorted back to pensions due to the high cost of turnover and training of new hires. Westport will not save money with this deal they will end up spending more. There will be a huge exodus of officers to go to better departments and towns who care for their employees. Quality of new officers will also go down as the only people willing to come work in Westport will be those desperate for a job.

      • Bart,
        You do realize what you earned in 2016 is equal to what these officers would make after working 12 years with overtime? I don’t know why you feel the need to comment every time the police pension is talked about. The PD has already changed from a PPO to a HSA which has saved the town thousands of dollars. Most officers don’t even take insurance as they have retired from other departments with much better healthcare plans. For one of the wealthiest towns in the world, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t allow current members to keep their retirement and reform the pension with new hires. You like to bring up other towns and their pension plans in comparison, well other towns take care of their current employees. They don’t stab them in the back after 20 years of service.

        Sincerely,
        A very annoyed Westport resident

        • Bart Shuldman

          Annoyed. Really? Will the seniors in Westport get annoyed when their property taxes go up as Westport absorbs the loss of state funding for education spending and PILOT payments? Or should Westport manage their budget as every company and private sector establishment does when they lose revenue? Are taxes unlimited in your world?

  3. I’d be surprised if insurance companies don’t use lack of recommended fire fighters per truck as one measure when setting premiums. They seem to use any reason to justify their high rates , such as distance from a fire hydrant. It’s truly remarkable Westport can fund a high school like Staples and willing to be totally under-served with respect to fire protection. One has to wonder by what logic and reasoning priorities are established.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Rob. Are you a resident and taxpayer in Westport? Do you have children in our schools that now face a tough education environment as budget constraints are needed?

      Since these changes have been made I have had no increase in my insurance costs due to how many fire people at our smaller stations. In fact, since my home value has declined, we have experienced lower rates. We live in area not served by any of the fire stations.

      Times are difficult in CT. Every year it’s another budget deficit and CT spending on town and cities and the messy have been cut. If you want to point any fingers, please do so at State Rep Steinberg who votes to protect the outrageous state worker benefits of the education of children in CT and money for the poor. Let’s not forget about his votes in haryford to raise state income taxes twice, the largest increases in CT’s history and the state is still in a Financial Death Spiral.

      Westport town leadership is looking at the difficult situation in CT and thinking of our children and our seniors. Managing a budget to the loss of state funding is prudent.

      Become part of the solution. CT now faces another massive deficit. This will not get any better until all parties are willing to put their
      Individual needs to the side and work together to FIX THE PROBLEM.

      • Nick Marsan, President Westport Firefighters Local 1081

        Mr Shuldman

        Though I cannot speak to insurance rates, I have to offer you one correction. You stated that your home is in an area not covered by any fire station. That is incorrect; every home in Westport falls within a district that provides an engine response that meets or exceeds the federal response time requirement — your home happens to be in a district that would have a 3 person engine, a 3 person ladder truck, and a command car arrive fist due for a fire – 8 Firefighters. Over a half of your fellow residents in town would be met by a single engine with 2 people on board.
        I’m certain you don’t think, for the same tax rate, your neighbors aren’t entitled to the same response your family would get?

  4. Robert Harrington

    Nick – thanks for taking up this issue and informing local residents about this. You are showing real leadership here.

    If we fix this 2 crew issue will Westport be in good shape when it comes to fire protection ?

    How can we help?

    • Nick Marsan, President Westport Firefighters Local 1081

      Robert,

      Thank you for your questions. A three person engine is a significant start and will greatly improve the safety of all families, businesses, and schools (the majority of Westport Schools are in areas covered by a 2 person Engine Company).

      As far as what residents can do to help, we strongly urge you to make your concerns and opinions known to your RTM representative and First Selectman Marpe. They have the ability to help provide for you and your family’s safety.

      Nick

    • Bart Shuldman

      Robert be careful. Additional people = additional costs multiplied by rising medical and pension costs. Additional expense will cause more budget cuts including education.

      Has there been any issue in town? How do we compare to other towns?

      Be careful. You got into the education discussion and now could add costs to the town that just might be unnecessary. The fireman use other units to back up any issue.

  5. William Strittmatter

    First, let me say that I don’t live in Westport so I don’t directly have a dog in this hunt but I am generally concerned about facile emotional appeals at any level. This simple and “obviously reasonable” appeal raises the interesting question of trade-offs that every level of government, Westport included, has to make.

    Obviously, there is great emotional appeal to “Every neighborhood deserves to be safe”. I mean, who can argue with that? Just like who can argue with “what about the kids” with respect to the education budget. Or, taking the analogy further, ”everyone should have a safe place to live” or “everyone should be able to earn a living wage” or “everyone should have access to quality healthcare irrespective of circumstances”. Each statement on its own sounds reasonable. And righteous.

    Of course, each of those statements, including “Every neighborhood deserves to be safe” has an associated cost that someone has to pay. Individually, the incremental immediate cost of each of those statements may seem reasonable. Indeed, they may in the aggregate be affordable at the Westport level given its aggregate “wealth”. Assuming, that is, that Westporter’s are willing to pay the price via higher property taxes, and that paying the price does not drive too many people out of town.

    Which leads to the trade offs. In this case, how much more do 3 firefighters cost versus 2 firefighters? Not just salary but healthcare, disability, pensions and all the other costs.

    Then the question is, how much more safe will that make Westporters? How many more lives will be saved?

    On the latter, one might look at statistics. How many lives in Westport have been lost to fires due to the reduction from 3 firefighters to 2 over the last decade? I could easily be wrong but my impression is zero. But then again, Westport over 10 years is a small sample size so that could easily be misleading.

    But looking beyond just 3 firefighters versus 2, shouldn’t Westport also be looking at the number of fire stations needed. There has been a lot of growth over the years since the last new station was built. Certainly everyone would be “safer” if there were a station on every other corner. Luckily for Westport, NIMBYism makes that question moot. Or maybe free smoke detectors, escape ladders and fire extinguishers for every house would be a cheaper way to save lives.

    It’s a bit like insurance. It doesn’t matter how much you have until you need it at which point “total, unlimited coverage” would be the right answer. But that would be prohibitively expensive so each of us make a trade off based on perceived risk and what one can afford.

    So, how much more safety (and other good things like better pensions for town employees and “even better” schools) does Westport want and how much more are you willing to pay? Fairfield level mill rates? Bridgeport level mill rates? Or, if higher taxes aren’t an option, what are you willing to trade-off? Scrap Italian language classes maybe?

    We can talk another time about accessing Westport’s wealth to allow neighboring towns to have the safety and all the other nice things that Westport has. I mean, as fellow human beings, are they any less “deserving”?

  6. John Siddell

    A couple questions: How is it that Darien still has a Volunteer fire dept? Yes they are smaller in population & sq miles, but Westport added 30+% more fire personal in the mid 90’s? Homes are bigger, but the population has not increased very much since then. Also, most towns in the state have 15% less fire personnel than police, but Westport it’s almost even?
    Thank you for your service!

  7. Michael Calise

    It seems there are a few facts which are being overlooked. How do our fire costs compare against other communities ? Are additional firemen on call for emergencies ? Is it possible we could eliminate a station and re-assign Firefighters to achieve the per truck manpower requested. Don’t fire stations back each other up? (Two fire engines with two men each provides four firefighters) etc. etc.

    • Brandon Malin

      Michael, removing a station is not a good idea in order to preserve life, it would greatly increase the time that it would take an engine, no matter how many firefighters are on board, to arrive at the fire. On the report that’s linked below, please look at the graphs on page 13, 15, 24 and 35. There are already areas of town not accessible within the safe response window (for example both Staples and Bedford are not within the window), and any increase to the response time would pose a serious risk to life. This risk to life also goes along with two fire stations backing each other up and off-duty firefighters being on call – an engine with two firefighters on board cannot safely enter a building to rescue someone inside, and it would take additional time for the second engine to arrive (as well as off-duty firefighters). As per your question about costs, I am not aware of how costs in Westport compares to other communities, although I am sure that it is searchable in the town budgets.

  8. SAl liccione

    I think the town should look into this i think the rtm needs look at this ASAP it I agree with nick and the fire dept

  9. Here are some interesting numbers.

    Westport had a Grand List total taxable valuation of $11,191,989,107, or written as eleven billion, one-hundred ninety-one million, nine-hundred eighty-nine thousand, one-hundred and seven dollars. This includes commercial and residential properties. The millage rate is $16.86 per thousand of value. Based on the property taxes collected on the total valuation, the Town earns $663,819,039. Westport has a population of 27,511 (2016). The property tax collected divided by 27,511 equals 24,129.
    So, the Town budget revenues earned from property taxes is $24,189 for every man, woman and child living in Westport.
    Naturally I expect some may dispute my numbers and admit to not knowing the vagaries of the Westport system. Feel free to make corrections!

    I moved from Westport in 1981 at age 30 because even then, for a young person, it was financially ridiculous. Before realizing it was time to exit the state, I went to a realtor and asked to see the cheapest home for sale in the town. She brought my wife and I to what amounted to a shack that someone had started to gut, on Saugatuck Shores. The price was $85,000 and today, I’m guessing worth $1.5 million.

    Honestly, I don’t understand what each of you get for $24,189. Of course it is a wonderful place in so many unique ways and don’t think I don’t miss what I left behind 37 years ago.

    I moved to a small Florida town where I served two terms as mayor, living 10 minutes from many fabulous beaches where no one ever needs a parking sticker.

    It’s not Westport, that’s for sure. But life has been good here…and I don’t need wonder what the Town provides my family of four with what would otherwise be our share…. $96,516.

    • Correction: The amount per capita = $24,129

      • If Westport “earns” $663,819039 each year from its Grand List and the Town budget the fiscal year starting July 1st is $206,936,380—where did the remaining $466,882,659 go? Your numbers are substantially wrong.

        • Thank you for your observation! I did indeed calculate incorrectly. Here’s what it should be:
          $11,191,989 x 16.86 = $188,696,936 property tax collected
          $188,696,936 divided by 27,511 = $6,859 per resident
          $27,435 for a family of four. I would guess businesses might represent 20-30% of the taxable value.
          Additional revenue for the budget comes from sources other than property tax. I will correct with another post. Bob, thanks again!

  10. Stephanie Bass

    Mr. Downey:

    The longer I’m on the planet, the more confused I get about people.

    You left my town 37 years ago and for some reason you take the time to research our financial data and give us your opinion that current Westporters are dumb for staying.

    Phooey.

  11. Stephanie Bass, to my knowledge this website is not a ‘residents only’ place. I know it’s somewhat a sad ‘hobby’ but my former role in municipal government left me with an insatiable curiosity regarding the financial workings of cities and states, large and small. It’s very easy to find basic finance statistics and run them through easy calculations. Not to worry…it only took about ten minutes! Westport and similar municipalities provide a rare anomaly for study but please don’t think I believe it dumb for current residents to stay and enjoy all that Westport has to offer. It is a terrific place and if you have the financial well-being, by all means enjoy! Actually, my personal story is more directed to those who can’t afford Westport and complain about the cost. By all means, for those in that category if at all possible, LEAVE and do it ASAP! There is ‘Life after Westport’. I will continue to find it very odd a Town with such amazing revenue claims not able to afford minimum staffing on it’s fire trucks…. and that’s where this conversation began.

  12. Brandon Malin

    If anyone would like to read the report on the Fire Department conducted by an outside group back in 2017, here’s the link: http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=12304

    Information and reasoning for increasing staffing starts at the end of page 23.

  13. Bob Grant suggested my calculations were flawed and indeed they were wrong.The amount per resident is greatly less than I had stated. Bob, thank you for your observation! Here’s what it should be:
    $11,191,989 x 16.86 = $188,696,936 property tax collected
    $188,696,936 divided by 27,511 = $6,859 per resident
    $27,435 for a family of four. I would guess businesses might represent 20-30% of the taxable value.
    Additional revenue for the budget comes from sources other than property tax. Bob, thanks again!

  14. We have wonderful firefighters in Westport, spread across town in strategic areas. It’s important to note that in the future, stations may be consolidated or moved within Westport or with a neighboring town. It’s not just about the number of personnel – it’s about having the resources (people and equipment) in place at the right locations to do the job effectively in the 21st century.

    Regarding equipment, the Board of Finance has never said no to any state-of-the-art equipment. I remember approving donations of older equipment from our town to other towns who value even the older equipment.

    • Nick Marsan, President, Westport Uniformed Firefighters Local 1081

      Avi:

      In 2010, the Board of Finance voted to not support the Fire Department’s acceptance of a SAFER grant, valued at 1.2 million, which would have assisted the Town in putting 3 firefighters on each engine. At the time, the reasoning was that the Town could not afford the long-term costs of new hires without changes to the Fire pension and post-retirement benefits. You were quoted as saying, “I am for this, but only in the context of a revisited benefits package.” You were also quoted as saying, “We want to do what’s right for the department, but we’re asking the union to do what’s right for us, and then it would be a win-win, that’s the only way I could support this.”

      Well, the benefits package for any future retirees has changed significantly, to the tune of $40-million over the next 20 years. Why are you no longer “for this?”

      As I’m sure you will recall, the Town sought out, vetted, and hired an independent consulting group – the Matrix Group – to conduct a study that was put forth to examine the state of firefighting services, including operational information, staffing, training, equipment and facilities. First and foremost, the study noted that the two-person staffing of Station 5 (Greens Farms) and Station 6 (Coleytown) is not sufficient for the risks present in the areas served by these stations and the way to remedy the situation was to increase the manpower at those two firehouses to three personnel.

      As far as consolidating a station with a neighboring town, the study states, consolidation “does not solve the issue of the underserved area in the eastern portion of Westport and that area would continue to be outside suburban performance capabilities. It also does not improve service along the Long Island Sound area with the exception of a few streets. As shown, the six minutes 30 second travel times do not extend to a point where this station would be able to replace an existing station, therefore the Town would experience significant capital expenses to construct the facility as well as increased personnel costs for staffing the station with little overall system improvement.” So, if it does nothing to improve delivery of service to the residents and it comes at a cost with little return, then what’s the point?

      You speak of what is needed to do our job effectively. While I find it confusing as to how you would know what is needed to do the job, I’m more curious as to what resources you’re referring to? There is no resource in this profession greater than the human one, and no piece of equipment, no matter how state of the art, will replace that.

      I do agree however, that the men and women I work with are indeed wonderful. I also agree that we are placed strategically throughout town for a reason. I find strategic placement without strategic manpower to be irresponsible and complacent.

  15. Bart Shuldman

    Is this what we want? 11% property tax increase? This what happens when costs get out of control and municipal leaders sit back and not manage for years, until it gets real bad.

    https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/budget_deficit_yale_/#.Wx-3QiGI8Ww.facebook