Fire Company Outlines Need For More Berlin Funding; 225-Percent Increase Sought

BERLIN – In response to the town’s recent and projected growth, the Berlin Fire Company will be seeking a significant increase in municipal funding in the coming fiscal year.

In an effort to be proactive, the Berlin Fire Company presented town officials last week with an outline of the funding request to be made during the next budget process. The company, which has received $400,000 from Berlin each of the past two years, is asking for more than $1.3 million next year.

“As the town continues to grow, fire and EMS is much busier,” said David Fitzgerald, president of the fire company.

According to Mayor Gee Williams, the town received a one-page preliminary funding request from the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1, 2016. Williams said the letter sought a grant increase for both fire and EMS operations as well as $500,000 toward the construction of a new fire station on Route 50.

“Total funding requested from the town for FY 2017 was $1,353,000 compared with the $400,000 total funding approved by the Town of Berlin during each of the past two fiscal years …,” Williams said. “As with any budget requests, the mayor and council will give each consideration and initiate a dialogue with appropriate BFC leaders when the formal budgeting beings.”

Council member Lisa Hall praised the fire company for presenting the request early, as in previous years it hasn’t been forwarded to town staff until late spring.

“It’s nice to see the fire company being proactive,” she said.

In an interview this week, Fitzgerald said BFC officials were just trying to provide the council with plenty of time to consider the request.

He said challenges facing the company in the coming year would be recruiting volunteers and responding to the increased number of calls he sees occurring following the construction of apartments on Seahawk Road. The first phase of the Oceans East project, a development near Stephen Decatur Middle School that could eventually include more than 700 apartments, will get underway next summer.

“It’s certainly a concern,” Fitzgerald said.

That, he added, was one of the reasons the fire company was trying to raise money for a new station on Route 50 near the Friendship Road intersection. He said that fundraising was ongoing and design of the new facility was underway. He does not know how much the project will cost.

“We don’t know until we get bids,” he said, adding that while there wasn’t yet a planned date of completion, firefighters wanted to see the new station up and running in the near future. “I can’t say we have a drop-dead date but we are progressing.”

Fitzgerald says the fire company has seen both fire and EMS calls increase as Berlin has grown in recent years. According to the BFC website, so far in 2015 the company has received 1,304 EMS calls and 289 fire calls. To deal with the growing number of calls, Fitzgerald said the BFC was working to expand its staff of paramedics and EMS providers to 16 in the coming year. In addition, the 60-member company is working to recruit new volunteers. That, Fitzgerald says, can be difficult.

“It is a large commitment,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to get out of bed at 2 a.m. and that kind of thing.”