Firehouse: What training do newly promoted officers receive?
Bryson: The training of new officers is one of my top priorities, even if they were promoted prior to my arrival. Currently, our new-officer classes last for two weeks. I would love to train the new officers for more time, but the budget is lean and it was tough to even make the two weeks happen. The training educates our officers on many issues they will face at their new rank. I spend time with each group and like to tell them where we are trying to go as a department and how they fit into that plan. I answer questions and listen to their comments.
Firehouse: How does your fleet of helicopters fit into the fire department mission?
Bryson: We cover a total of 1,900 square miles. We have areas that have extremely long transport times and shortening them makes the difference between life and death. We have two full-time helicopters, one north and one south. In addition, we have a backup fleet. We keep the helicopters operational around the clock. They are a unique tool that fits many circumstances – water dumps for wildland fires, searches for lost people in the Everglades, rescues at sea and, of course, medical transports. We use a four-person flight crew: pilot, co-pilot and two flight medics. Our helicopters are very valuable assets that have served our citizens well.
Firehouse: Has moving fire dispatch into headquarters made a difference in operations and efficiency?
Bryson: We are building that out presently, so they haven’t moved yet. I think the move will be a double positive. It will improve morale within the dispatcher ranks, which in turn improves operations in the field. We are making sure to design the area to suit the job. Our dispatchers are so important in what we do and I am very impressed with their abilities. They dispatch 240,000 calls a year and handle some huge incidents. When they move to our headquarters, the message is simple: “We want you here where you belong.”
Firehouse: A new medic (rescue) unit was added to the department and a second rescue unit was added to an existing station. Do you require more EMS coverage?
Bryson: Absolutely! Currently, we have areas where units are available only 40% of the time. I feel that number is unacceptable. When the economy improves and tax rolls increase, I feel we must add rescue (medic) units to busy areas. We currently use ALS (advanced life support) suppression apparatus to handle many EMS calls. I believe suppression units should be available at a much higher rate than 40% and the way to do that is to add more rescue units in the busy areas. We will continue to review and make adjustments, but unless the calls decline, which I don’t see happening, we will need more resources.
Firehouse: No new firefighters have been hired since 2008. About 800 were hired in the years before that. How many personnel do you need to hire?
Bryson: Based upon our daily minimum staffing of 411 personnel in Operations, we need about 1,776 (4.3 per position) assigned. We’re down about 50 firefighters right now and lose a few every month. So we’re anxious to get moving on a new list and class. n