Fitness training program gets finance approval

The Board of Finance Tuesday approved a $110,788 federal grant to aid in firefighter fitness. From left are board members Liz Zezima and Sheila Marmion. Fairfield,CT. 9/6/17
The Board of Finance Tuesday approved a $110,788 federal grant to aid in firefighter fitness. From left are board members Liz Zezima and Sheila Marmion. Fairfield,CT. 9/6/17Genevieve Reilly / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — They took a circuitous route, but the Board of Finance found its way to a vote on a $110,785 expenditure for firefighter fitness.

The fitness program goals include a medical assessment program, strengthening the behavioral health program, and lay the foundation for a formal wellness, fitness, and injury prevention program. The funds will cover training and certification, equipment, assessment, and data management.

The type of fitness training is called tactical fitness, for military, police, and firefighters, and is not about working out to get good at working out, but creating programs that carry over into real life movements, like lifts, carries, crawls, runs, swim, and mobility. For example, non-traditional equipment is used to carry unbalanced loads.

If there is available space in the fitness trainer and peer counselor programs, those slots would be offered to the Fairfield Police Department, regional partners, and the other fire departments.

The idea behind the program is to ensure that the town’s firefighters can function safely in all environments. According to fire officials, research has shown the fitness program can reduce sick and injury leave by 25 percent.

The Fire Department has received a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for the fitness program. The grant will reimburse $100,717 of that expense, with the department expected to pony up the rest.

And that’s where the problem lay.

Fire Chief Denis McCarthy said the department, due to spending freezes, has more than $200,000 left unspent in its fiscal year 2016-17 budget. According to McCarthy, they received approval from the Finance Department to use $10,068 of those funds to cover the unreimbursed cost.

“We have never done this ever before, where we haven’t been given our document with the requests to carry over,” finance board member James Walsh said. Normally, he said, the panel receives a list of unspent money, and what, if anything, that money would be spent on. The Board of Finance then votes on that list.

Walsh said a similar situation is occurring with the first selectman sending out a press release, indicating that unspent funds would be used to fill vacancies at the library, in order to restore hours. “We know nothing about any of the numbers,” he said.

Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said at Tuesday’s finance meeting the towns’ policy is to allow carry over for items in the budget. “This was not in the budget,” Mayer said, in reference to the fitness program.

The board will be voting on the “carry over” list later this month, but McCarthy said the department only has until Sept. 30 to get all approvals in place and formally accept the grant. He said they already received an extension on that deadline because town boards were not meeting over the summer months.

The Representative Town Meeting, which must also approve the request, meets Sept. 25, and the Board of Finance will meet again on Sept. 26, which would mean the request would carry over until the RTM’s October meeting — well past the deadline.

“Generally, the process is nothing can get held over until the Board of Finance votes,” Walsh said, but fellow board member David Becker said the Fire Department did exactly what the town asked them to do, and held back on expenditures. “To some degree, they’re doing exactly what we wanted them to do,” he said. “In my view, everything has worked the way it should.”

Chairman Thomas Flynn agreed. “Where we’re getting tripped up right now is how to approve this without already approving the carryover,” Flynn said. “We can’t just allow carry overs to happen.”

To deal with that, the finance board added a new resolution to the agenda to vote on carrying over the $10,068 to be used for the fitness program. Once they approved that, unanimously, they then approved the $110,788 expenditure.; @GreillyPost