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Firehouse: How have you and other chiefs worked recently on shrinking budgets and sharing resources?
Bowers: Fire chiefs from the National Capital Region and Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan areas have convened meetings to discuss budget challenges and how we may be able to share resources. The discussions have benefited each department chief and several innovative ideas and strategies have developed from those discussions. It is extremely beneficial to have colleagues who are willing to meet, share thoughts, ideas and information. Their efforts are appreciated and respected.
Firehouse: What budget strategies have you developed to maintain essential services during these challenging economic times?
Bowers: Developing sound budget and fiscal strategies is extremely important during challenging economic times. Our strategy and focus has been to maintain our fire-based EMS service-delivery model capability of responding to structure fires and critical advanced life support (ALS) medical care with our ALS engines and ladders and in “preventing the 911 call.” This is how we save lives, reduce property damage and prevent injuries. Data-driven decisions related to response-time coverage and focusing on getting the troops what they need in order to maintain our essential service-delivery model is a primary strategy. Our elected officials and county residents greatly support our fire-based EMS service delivery model because of our positive performance measures in the critical areas of structure fire and ALS incident response times. We have also aggressively applied for federal grants.
Firehouse: Are new stations planned, relocated or in need of renovation to keep up with growth in the county?
Bowers: There are several new fire and rescue stations planned to be constructed, relocated and renovated. Our department does an excellent job in master and strategic planning in the area of station site selection and resource deployment. We have forecasted by Census and GIS data the need and have planned for several new stations, the relocation of a couple of stations and renovating numerous others. Our Capital Improvement Project funding plan carries out some of these priorities for the next five to 10 years.
Firehouse: Does the department plan to hire personnel soon?
Bowers: Presently, the department has funding for two recruit classes in this fiscal year. One class starts in February and the second class begins in June. We have implemented the hiring process for Trained Certified Personnel (TCPs) that have National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firefighter II, Hazardous Materials Operations and Maryland EMT-B or ALS certifications. The two TCP recruit schools have been restructured so that the recruits are able to complete their training and be placed into vacant field staff positions.
Firehouse: Have you made any other changes to conserve money?
Bowers: The department has examined every opportunity and option to conserve funds. For example, we consolidated our cellular carriers, bundled minutes and text-ing options together and negotiated cost-saving contracts with cellular vendors to reduce expenses. The department has also gone through a strategic division restructuring that has saved money by consolidating resources and redistributing duties, responsibilities and work assignments. The department is presently reviewing our response protocols and certain call types and responses to possibly reduce apparatus-response costs. n