Bloomfield Fire Department reduces employee hours

Reducing hours of three firefighters will allow Bloomfield to continue paying them through June.

Hannah Grover
From left, Bloomfield firefighter Quinton Boyce, Lt. Sean Eckstein and Engineer Ian Rutter clean the department's fire truck on Monday at the Bloomfield Fire Department.
  • The firefighters positions were previously paid for by a grant that expired last year
  • The fire department has seen an increase in volunteers in the past six months
  • A paid firefighter and a volunteer will be at the station at all times, according to the fire chief

BLOOMFIELD — An increase in volunteer firefighters may help Bloomfield Fire Department retain a fast response time despite losing staff members.

During a city council meeting Monday, Fire Chief John Mohler said the number of volunteers has doubled since October, when there were 12 volunteer firefighters.

This will help the fire department keep its station staffed 24 hours a day despite reducing hours for three of the paid firefighters, he said.

Mayor Scott Eckstein praised Mohler and Mohler's predecessor, George Duncan, for recruiting more volunteers.

"Coverage is vital in our community," Eckstein said.

These firefighters were paid using a federal grant, which expired last year. The city had a special election, in which residents voted to increase the gross receipts tax. The tax increase was marketed as a way of keeping paid firefighters, however city officials have not decided how the increased revenue will be distributed.

Bloomfield has seen a decrease in gross receipts tax revenue over the last two years. During a state board of finance meeting last week in Santa Fe, city manager Eric Strahl said the city saw an 11 percent decrease in gross receipts revenue in fiscal year 2016 and a 16 percent decrease this fiscal year.

Mohler said he is hopeful the economy will improve raising the gross receipts tax revenue. If that happens, he said the city may be able to budget enough for the fire department to pay the firefighters.

While the department is shrinking, Mohler said there will be one paid firefighter and one volunteer firefighter at the station at least through June.

"The first truck will still get there fast," Mohler said.

The city received the federal SAFER grant in 2014, which allowed the fire department to increase the number of paid firefighters from three to 10. This allowed the department to decrease its average response time from more than seven minutes to less than five minutes. When it expired, the city had limited options for paying the firefighters. Currently, positions are being funded using money in the wild land fire fund. The department has earned the money by sending firefighters to fight wildfires in other areas.

Insurance rates in Bloomfield also went down because of the grant. The insurance rates are partially based on the Insurance Services Office's rating. The ISO rating looks at the fire department, water system and emergency communications. While evaluating the fire department, the ISO is further broken down into training and personnel.

Bloomfield was evaluated last year and will not be evaluated again for several years, Mohler said. Bloomfield currently has an ISO rating of Class 2, which places it in the top 3 percent in the country, according to The Daily Times archives.

"The ISO rating will go down if we don't have more staffing by the time we're evaluated again," Mohler said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.