Williston, VT — Fire departments across Vermont are impacted by critical staffing shortages, but in Williston that could soon change, as voters have approved a budget that will help hire more emergency workers.
Williston will see a $1.58 million increase to the town budget, roughly half of that money addresses staffing at the fire department. The Williston Fire Department is adding nine new career firefighters to the team.
“It means that we can actually staff the ladder truck that sits behind me or the tanker trunk, we haven’t been able to make those benchmarks with the limited staff we have,” Fire Chief Aaron Collette said. “This means that we will have an ability to serve our community in ways that we have been falling short recently with the decline in the number of staff that we have available.”
The town’s volunteer firefighting forces have dropped from 30 people to as few as six over the past five years.
“So that is really a critical number, we should have never got that low,” Collette said. “And the addition to these full time personnel will help offset that decline. Right now on a regular basis we are going on that engine alone, and that means when the ambulance transports from a medical call we are in charge of the entire town public safety with it being one person.”
Captain Prescott Nadeau said this is a sense of relief and it will be a reduction of workload across the board.
“Both fire and EMS calls, as well as around the station, that means we will have an increased ability to serve the public by projects and tasks,” Nadeau said.
Town Manager Erik Wells said these staffing shortages are occurring as Williston’s population continues to grow.
“Willison has added around 100 people per year over the last 20 years,” Wells said. “We are just over 10,000 people.”
The average homeowner will see an increase in taxes.
“It’s just over three and a half cents on the current tax rate and that’s an estimate that the grand list is finalized in the spring of each year,” Wells said.
Chief Collette said they hope to have the positions filled by mid April. Voters in Williston also approved money for the department to buy a new ambulance.