The City of Lambertville Fire District #1 will hold a public information session on the evening of Friday, Feb. 14, on the referendum being held Saturday to increase funding of the fire company by $509,692 this year through a tax increase.
Most of the money would be used to hire paid, or “per diem,” firefighters to address the dramatic decline in those volunteering for the department in recent years.
“Unfortunately, the number of available volunteer firefighters drops every year — this is a nationwide problem, certainly not unique to Lambertville,” said District #1 member Gary Breuer. “If this referendum successfully passes, the District will provide coverage seven days a week, 16 hours a day, with a four person crew. The three full-time career firefighters already on staff will be supplemented with per diem firefighters in order to cover the shifts. The career staff is supplemented by the remaining six or seven active volunteer firefighters.”
The proposed tax increase has met with stiff resistance by some members of the community already concerned by their tax burden and the potential impact of the city’s sizable budget deficit. They question the need for additional funding, often citing the trend toward regionalizing fire services and establishing service-sharing arrangements with neighboring towns.
The fire department says that approving the referendum will increase taxes paid by Lambertville households for fire services from $300 per year to $520. But they point to the fact that the number of calls answered by District #1 has grown from 100 per year in 2000 to 325 in 2019. Over the same period, response time has diminished from 3-5 minutes to 3-15 minutes, and training time for a firefighter has risen from 120 hours to 300 — making it even harder to recruit volunteers.
“The most critical part of having four firefighters on duty during the times when most emergencies occur is the rapid response by trained personnel,” explained Breuer. “Time is critical for almost every type of response. Fire doubles in intensity every thirty seconds — a person in cardiac arrest begins to suffer brain damage after being without oxygen for four minutes, and the chance to resuscitate a drowning victim drops off as the minutes needed to locate them tick by.”
Residents and business owners will be able to ask questions directly at Friday’s public meeting on the referendum, which will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the fire house at 230 N. Main St. in Lambertville. Information from District #1 is also available online or by calling (609) 397-2084.
Voting on the referendum takes place at the fire house on Saturday, Feb. 15, from 2 to 9 pm.