But we need to continue to research what the "optimal" number of staff should be for a city such as Ann Arbor where the incidence of violent crime and fire may be below the national standard while at the same time be cognizant of trends; currently non-violent crime in Ann Arbor is increasing and there have been 12 fire-related deaths in Ann Arbor since 2008. Answering the question "What is the optimal number of police and fire personnel?" should be a priority for City Council.
Currently, we are likely below the "optimal" number given the amount of overtime currently paid to public safety personnel. According to annarbor.com, the City spent 1.4M in overtime pay for police, and 375K for fire in 2011. Theoretically, paying staff overtime saves money in the short term because we aren't paying out additional benefits for new employees. But what happens to long-term, over-worked employees? Likely, they burn out, leave and collect generous retirement pay. I would argue that it is more fiscally sustainable to bring new employees with benefits into the mix at this time because the cost to do so would be less than the cost of overtime. Furthermore, employing the right number of employees leads to predictable work schedules and productivity and ultimately reinforces the "City Guiding Principal" of employee growth and enjoyment.
I have been concerned about the closing of two fire stations in Ann Arbor. As a resident, it feels drastic, and if the plan is to hire more firefighters, then why must we close stations? I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning about this issue. I've attended a community meeting at Tappan Middle School, and met with Chief Hubbard one-on-one a few days later because I had more questions.
The need to consolidate fire stations is driven by increasing cost of fire fighters. These costs include wages, benefits and overtime. As overtime goes up, so do pensions. The benefits of consolidating 16 staff across 3 stations include:
However, I am not an advocate of this plan. The 4-minute or less coverage is hypothetical, we have yet to see what response times will really be with only three stations. Additionally, the two- in and two-out OSHA guideline is just that, a guideline and not a requirement preventing two fire fighters from going in and one staying out if there is a life at risk.
I've been researching a model called Fire Service-Based EMS. About 80% of calls to our Fire Department are for EMS assistance. I think a Fire Service-Based EMS system would better serve a community where the majority of calls are for EMS, rather than Fire, without compromising fire responsiveness. In a Fire Service-Based model our fire personnel would be (as they already are) cross-trained in EMS and would be able to provide transport to hospitals. And, the City would earn revenue for the transport service.
Today, calls to the Fire Department are dispatched by Huron Valley Ambulance (which the City is charged about $17 per call), but the Fire Department typically arrives first and stabilizes the patient until Huron Valley Ambulance arrives. It would seem more expeditious for our Fire Department to transport the patient right away without waiting for HVA. There would be some significant start-up costs in purchasing an ambulance(s) or retro-fitting our current equipment for transport. But if Ann Arbor had its own EMS service, again for which we are called upon 80% of the time, we would realize the highest and best use of our EMS and fire safety personnel.
Fire Station Reorganization - Update
I was relieved to hear Mayor John Hieftje proclaim at the March 11th Council Work Session that the plan to reduce the number of fire stations "is not going anywhere". Public safety is a hugely complex issue with lots of components; response times, training and equipment, labor contracts, etc. We need to proceed with caution in finding a fiscally sustainable solution. Public Safety has been identified among City Council's top five budget priorities for the next two years. I look forward to learning how staff plans to incorporate this priority in its budget presentation expected in April, 2013.
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In the words of Rich Kinsey "Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors."