As a result of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed mid-year budget revisions, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department is making temporary adjustments to its operational procedures, but Chief Randy Smith stressed they would not negatively affect public safety.
During a press conference today, Smith said the department has about 78 unfilled positions and historically, has relied on overtime to cover staffing shortages at the city’s 20 fire stations. With a primary directive from the mayor’s office to reduce overtime, the department decided to mothball two engine companies for a period of six months to move the manpower elsewhere.
The changes only affect the two stations in the department that have more than one engine, Smith said, and response times will be evaluated weekly for any deficiencies.
Engine 11, which is co-housed with Engine 2 at Willett Station on Broad Street at Baltimore Street, will be taken off duty beginning March 29 but Engine 2 will remain on duty. Engine 11 personnel will be shuffled to other stations.
Engine 10, which is co-housed with Engine 15 at Rehm Station at Moffett Road and Western Drive, will be taken off duty and the manpower will be moved to Station 12 on Old Shell Road at Ashland Place. Meanwhile, personnel from Station 12 will be used to fill vacancies in other stations beginning March 29. Engine 15 will remain at Rehm Station on duty.
Beginning yesterday, the department also reduced the staffing level on all ladder trucks from four personnel to three. The fourth person assigned to each truck will be used to fill other vacancies in the department. There are five ladder trucks in the department and they usually respond to structure fire calls along with three engines, an ambulance and a district chief, Smith said.
“In 2013 we went $1.3 million over our overtime budget,” he said. “By taking a fire station that has two fire engines in it, we are temporarily reducing the staffing of that station and utilizing it to help cover unfunded or vacant positions within the department.”
Along with about $300,000 in reduced expenses from overtime, the fire department cut about another $1.09 million out of its revised 2014 budget. The majority of those savings are achieved by reducing a paramedic cadet program from 20 participants to 10 and plans to cancel the cadet class for 2014. Smith said the department is “fully staffed” with 99 paramedics, so a temporary reduction in recruitment should have no short-term impacts.
“By reducing the number from 20 to 10, we’re taking 10 of the positions and pushing them into help operations and fund field personnel,” he said.
Reducing the paramedic cadet program from 20 spaces to 10 saved approximately $225,000, Smith said. Not filling the 10 open cadet spaces will save another $225,000. At the same time, the department will save about $200,000 by not purchasing books, tuition or fees associated with putting paramedic cadets through training.
“We’re at full capacity with the paramedic program,” Smith said. “Our ambulances have three personnel assigned but sometimes we ride with two. That allows us to move one over to an engine. So it made more economical sense to postpone hiring for that position because we would have to utilize them for something other than what they were hired for.”
Smith said “80-to-84 percent” of the MFRD’s operations are related to medical calls or EMS activity. Going into the 2015 budget, Smith said he would reinstate the two engine companies and try to increase staffing levels, but a more immediate focus would be to replace or upgrade some of the department’s vital equipment.
At the press conference, Smith was seated before a table full of old boots and gloves he said the mayor’s administration had allocated $95,000 to replace.
“In 2015 I think overtime will level out and recruit hiring and promotions will reduce the need for even more overtime, but more than anything we need to provide the equipment to do the job,” he said. “The 2014 budget…was developed through coordinated effort through executive staff and district chiefs with cooperation and input from both labor organizations. As promised by Mayor Stimpson he is continuing to support emergency services by providing the safety equipment we need to do our job. With new programs and plans we have implemented and the support of the community and mayor and staff, Mobile will become the safest city by 2020.”