Milford firefighters union questions ARPA fund distribution

Milford Fire Department.

Milford Fire Department.

Saul Flores Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Federal funds the city allocated to the Milford Fire Department could have been better spent elsewhere, according to the city's firefighter union chief.

The department received about $400,000 in pandemic relief funds from the city — split between $165,000 for communications equipment and $246,000 for EMS sustainability equipment — from Milford's American Rescue Plan Act allotment.

Ryan LaGuardia, president of the Milford Professional Firefighters Local 944 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, has stated that while the department appreciates the purchases, they weren't the highest priority for the funds.

"We use these daily, but the money could have been used to go elsewhere that needed it more," LaGuardia said. "I'm not complaining because that is not what we do as firefighters. We get the job done. But I do feel like money was given out without knowing what is really going on." 

In a recent Facebook post, the union pointed out that the total amount of funding MFD received comes to 1.4 percent of the total $29.2 million the city received through the ARPA funding. 

The funding was important, but the equipment the funding paid for should have been line items in the department's annual budget, LaGuardia said. 

"Funding could have gone to the 100-foot ladder fire truck, building infrastructure, hazard pay or improvements to our buildings," he said. The city's 100-foot ladder truck is currently out of service as it awaits costly repairs.

LaGuardia added firefighters had been asking for money for new EMS equipment since 2020.

Mayor Ben Blake said such purchases are usually part of the department's capital improvement plan.

"Before being put on the capitol improvement plan, projects are funneled through the chief, and it just didn't make it up the line," Blake said.

Blake said Milford remains committed to fire service.

"Next week, we are starting the Board of Finance, and we are pushing to authorize $1.4 million for a quint fire truck (a fire truck that has five functions: a pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders)," he said. "We have invested in the fire department and will continue to do so."

LaGuardia said the ARPA funding working group could have had a better idea of what the MFD needed if they had someone representing the fire department.

"But nobody from the fire department was asked to be part of the ARPA working group," he said.

Blake said the ARPA working group solicited project requests from all the city departments and the community.

"We had several submitted project proposals from departments and several proposals from the fire department the working group funded," he said.

In addition to the MFD funded by ARPA, Blake said there were $7 million of COVID costs related to city employee benefits, including the fire department. And the city also designated about $3.5 million of ARPA funds toward a new facility on Seamons Lane, which the city plans to use for emergency management and health-related activities, Blake said.

He added the Seamons Lane project "is something our health director, with the support of the fire chief, proposed."