LONDONDERRY — For the first time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the Londonderry Fire Department a federal SAFER grant totaling $700,566.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., visited the town’s central station Friday, the same day as the official announcement of the grant, to discuss the grant and a bill she’s co-sponsored to create a cancer registry for firefighters.
Shaheen wrote a letter to FEMA officials in June in support of Londonderry’s bid for the SAFER grant.
With the additional funds, the department will be able to hire four new full-time firefighters. The department currently has two 10-man shifts and two 11-man shifts. The new firefighters will mean the department will have continuous 12-man shifts, according to Fire Chief Darren O’Brien.
The expansion is necessary, according to fire officials, because of the rapid growth of the town, citing a 70 percent increase in calls. O’Brien estimated the department will receive more than 4,000 calls by the end of the year.
About half of those calls are happening simultaneously with other calls, which stretches their resources.
O’Brien said opioid overdose calls fluctuate but have held steady. They mostly happen in parking lots and public restrooms close to the interstate exits, and they affect people across the population.
“We’re seeing kids that are 15 years old, but we’re seeing people that are 55 years old,” O’Brien said.
By the end of September, the Londonderry Fire Department expects to be breaking ground on a major renovation of its central fire station, which will increase its space from 8,600 square feet to about 22,000 square feet, according to O’Brien.
“We’re a little cramped for space now,” O’Brien said.
Town Manager Kevin Smith, who was present for the meeting alongside two members of the Town Council, told Shaheen the town voted 68 percent in favor of the new fire station.
The project will include major additions to the north and south ends of the building and a new roof connecting them together.
The department also hopes to be awarded another $60,000 FEMA grant to pay for machines called “extractors,” which are machines that launder firefighter gear of harmful chemicals, and driers for the gear.
Lt. Don Waldron said they expect to find out if they were awarded the grant by Sept. 30.
The Firefighter Cancer Registry bill was signed into law in July.
Waldron said cancer is a serious concern for the department. There have been six people at the Londonderry Fire Department diagnosed in the past 10 years, he said.
While it was not stated during the meeting, one of those individuals was O’Brien’s son, Zach O’Brien, a firefighter since 2013 who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 22. He’s 25 now and has been cancer free for two years, he said.
Waldron said firefighters nationwide are nine times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the general public, and 14 times more likely to die from cancer.