FIRE DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS AND OVERTIME
From the office of Chief Pristera 2010-02-04
We feel the recent Star Beacon front-page photo of the fire on West Prospect is a good opportunity to put the recent budget debate regarding the Fire Department overtime line item into perspective. The news photo shows two firefighters preparing a hose line to attack the well-developed fire, a third firefighter is shown connecting the fire engine to a hydrant. When he is finished connecting the engine, he is responsible to shut off the utilities, set up ventilation and pull other hose lines. What you do not see in the photo are the two firefighters who are entering the rear of the building to search for the missing occupant who is reported to be an invalid. The sixth firefighter is working to open the building for the search crew and then ventilate it to improve safety and visibility for the search crew and improve survivability for any trapped victims.
Since this fire occurred during “normal” business hours, the Chief responded with the fire companies and was available to block traffic, coordinate the response, and call for additional help. The Fire Marshal also responded immediately and began to identify the number and disposition of the occupants.
The actions of these first due firefighters are the only hope for victims who are trapped in or near a fire and make a dramatic difference in the total amount of damage done by the fire.
The much discussed overtime line item in the fire department budget is the funding source for several expenditures. These include; premium pay for firefighters who are working on holidays and equalization pay required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Additionally, firefighters who are recalled to duty during fires or other emergencies are paid out of this account. These expenditures coupled with the previously mentioned non-discretionary costs total about $70,000 per year. The rest of the OT appropriation request is to pay overtime to firefighters who are called in to maintain minimum staffing, covering “unexpected” shortages created when scheduled firefighters miss work because of injury or illness.
An alternative solution would be to hire enough additional firefighters to maintain a “cushion” ensuring six firefighters are always available. Careful analysis reveals this to be a more expensive solution than using overtime to fill the gaps.
Listening to the public debate and media coverage could leave a reasonable person believing the fire department does not carefully control overtime. This would be a reasonable, but inaccurate conclusion. Overtime in the fire department is a mechanism to maintain bare minimum levels of adequate fire protection in our community.
The deal recently crafted between the City and the Firefighters Union is the best compromise possible under the financial constraints facing our community.
Regrettably, staffing will be reduced to five on days where firefighters have called off. This was a safer solution than the alternative- laying off a firefighter and reducing staffing everyday to five.
As we move forward in these difficult economic times we want the citizens of Ashtabula to be assured that, its Fire Department is doing everything possible to spend their tax dollars efficiently.
For more information contact Ron Pristera @ 997-7186