The Day – Volunteer firefighters get payouts for highway calls
Mystic – Through the efforts of the Old Mystic Fire Department and State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, volunteer fire departments across the state responding to calls on limited-access highways such that highways 95 and 395 will receive $500 per appeal from the state.
Payments were instituted in 1959 at $25 per call. They rose to 0 in 1971 and remained at that amount until 2003, when the law establishing them was repealed. Since then, departments such as Old Mystic, which responds to approximately 40 accident, fire and medical emergency calls per year on I-95 from exits 88 through 91, have not received any payment.
Old Mystic Fire Chief Ken Richards Jr. and Old Mystic Fire District Vice President Mike Pacheco brought the matter to the attention of Howard, a member of the City’s Public Safety Committee. the General Assembly, pointing out that these were the ratepayers of the Old Mystic Fire District, not the state. taxpayers, who pay the cost of calls, which sometimes involve having vehicles and personnel idling on the highway for many hours. While state police respond to calls on limited-access highways, there is no state fire department to respond, leaving the response to local fire departments.
“Since 2002, the Old Mystic Fire Department has provided services to Connecticut state ratepayers, with the cost paid by Old Mystic ratepayers,” Richards said Tuesday.
“We just want our taxpayers to get a break,” Pacheco added.
Both men said the department was committed to providing fire services on the highway. As an example, Pacheco pointed out that the department’s $950,000 rescue truck was specially equipped to handle the incidents it responds to on the highway. District ratepayers paid for this truck and all the others that responded.
With the exception of Groton and New London, which have paid fire departments and are not eligible for payments, many other towns in southeastern Connecticut have volunteer departments that respond to calls on I-95s. and I-395.
Howard explained that after the bill came out of the Legislature’s Public Safety and Justice Committees, the plan and its funding were incorporated into the state budget adjustment bill that was adopted by the General Assembly. Although he worked to get the money for freeway calls approved, Howard ended up voting against the budget bill because he opposed other areas of spending.
The budget includes $1.5 million in payments to reimburse volunteer services for 3,000 calls during the state fiscal year.
While a reimbursement of around $20,000 a year won’t cover the cost of equipment wear and increased fuel costs involved in answering road calls, Richards and Pacheco both praised the annual district budget revenue of $2.2 million. They said $20,000 is the cost of a single extrication tool on the rescue truck.
An analysis of 2021 road calls pegged the department’s costs at $33,431, based on equipment rates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’re grateful to Greg (Howard) for being proactive about this,” Pacheco said.