Desite a tepid response to a proposal two years ago to halve the size of the police jurisdiction, the Mobile City Council seemed agreeable to a plan presented Tuesday afternoon to pull back on fire and EMS coverage in the same area.
Under the plan, presented by Mobile Fire-Rescue Chief Mark Sealy and Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber during a meeting of the council’s public safety committee, the city would no longer have primary response on fire and EMS calls in parts of the police jurisdiction.
Theodore Volunteer Fire Department would take over primary response in their district, Sealy told councilors.
“Theodore is excited to take it back,” Sealy said. “They are ready. They are equipped. They have three stations and it’s their duty to respond.”
Residents within Theodore’s fire district already pay for the volunteer service, city spokeswoman Laura Byrne said.
In other areas, the Seven Hills Volunteer Fire Department will take over, Sealy told councilors. In the area of the jurisdiction near Airport Boulevard and Schillinger Road, the city will continue to respond to fire calls because there is no fire authority. The city will also continue to respond to calls in the Hollinger’s Island area because Theodore trucks would have to cross city limits to get there, Sealy said.
All medical calls in the police jurisdiction would be handled by several ambulance services in the county, he said. Medical calls make up the majority of calls for the fire department.
In 2017, a total of 12,718 pieces of MFRD apparatus went out of the city limits to a call, Sealy said. There are 70,000 pieces of apparatus, he said.
“In 2017, every one of our trucks went outside the city limits for calls,” Sealy said.
The trips outside the city limits affect response time for the department, Sealy said. This, among other factors, helps determine the MFRD’s insurance service office (ISO) rating. The lower the ISO rate, the lower insurance can be in an area covered by the department in question. MFRD currently sports an ISO-3 rating. Since Sealy’s promotion to chief, it has been no secret the city has been taking steps to better that rating. Only about 250 out of the more than 45,000 stations nationwide have an ISO rating of 1, Barber told councilors.
ISO rates the department by the length of time it takes the first truck and last truck to get to the scene of a fire. Sealy said departments shoot for a response time of five minutes and 20 seconds for the first truck and nine minutes 20 seconds for the last truck.
Six minutes is an acceptable response time. In the police jurisdiction, the MFRD is not reaching that mark on a consistent basis, Sealy said.
“In the police jurisdiction we’re (at a call) in under six minutes 32 percent of the time,” he said. “In Theodore we only get there 15 percent of the time. That’s unacceptable.”
State law requires a city with a police jurisdiction to provide only enough services to cover what it brings in from that area in business license fees. Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said the city takes in roughly $2 million in business license fees from the jurisdiction. Businesses within the jurisdiction only pay half what the business license fee would be inside the city limits.
Sales tax is collected at half the rate in the police jurisdiction, as well. Wesch said the city takes in $8 million in sales tax from the jurisdiction.
In contrast, the city spends $17 million in direct costs related to police and fire coverage in the police jurisdiction, Wesch said.
Unlike in 2016, when Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration wanted to make changes to the police jurisdiction’s border, this action does not require council approval. The body could not get enough votes in 2016 to move forward on the changes, due in large part to concern over costs to the county for law enforcement coverage.
Councilors seemed much more agreeable to this change, with council Vice President Levon Manzie even joking that he didn’t remember the discussion in 2016.