Thread: Under Staffed ?

  1. #1
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    Default Under Staffed ?

    Hello Guys and Gals,

    In today's day and age our nations fire departments career, paid on call and volunteer are drastically under staffed due to budget cuts, economy and political views. Day in day out we operate at these under staffed levels and continue to get the job done at the risk we get hurt, disfigured and even worse of killed. When is enough? enough! What can we do to increase our staffing on the career side to minimally staff our front line apparatus for safe and effective operations? Being a junior member of a 32 man department, in order to enact change's in my department you have to get the membership on board and then make it the Chief's idea. So I'm trying to get my ducks in a row. I have a few questions that I'm looking for feed back on.

    First some back ground:

    Large North East Shoreline town about 48 square miles and a population of 21,000, with increase during summer months.

    Fire department- Combination-paramedic service. 32 man career side about 15-30 Volunteers on the books. Slowly decreasing to the point of no response on some calls.

    We run 24/72, 4 Division's with 8 men, 7FF and a Captain, We staff a paramedic ambulance, 3 man Heavy Rescue (Captain on Board), 2 Man Engine company, and a 1 man Quint/Tower Ladder.

    The career Staff is also responsible for 3000 Gal Tanker, Hazmat trailer/Gross Decon trailer/Prime mover, Dive rescue truck, Brush truck, Spare/Extra/Specialty Rescue.

    Volunteer side 3 class A pumpers, 3 Back up ambulance's, Air and light unit and another 3000 Gal tanker.

    Our operations and tactics will be a another book worth and I don't want to bore or scare you. We run roughly 4000 Calls per year, about 10-15 Structure Fires a year, this includes mutual aid and RIT team response's.

    We were granted a SAFER Grant 2 years ago, 3 years remaining, which allowed us to go from 6 man shifts to 8 man shifts.

    My idea is going from 24/72 to 24/48. I know there would be opposition going from a 42 hr week to a 56 hr week.

    My question is:

    Would it make sense to change from 24/72 to 24/48, consolidation of 4 shifts into 3 shifts?

    -During contract negotiations ask for something in return?
    -Hire 4 additional FF/Medic to bring staffing to 12?
    -What is the pro's and con's of this move?
    -Will OT or Sick time increase?

    This would give us:

    Deputy or Shift Commander in a car (New spot)
    3 Man Engine
    3 Man Tower Ladder
    3 Man Heavy Rescue
    2 Man Medic Unit

    And in the process create 2 Lieutenant's

    This seems safer and would make day to day logistics more operable. In my head this makes sense and to others It may not. That is why I pose this question to the Firehouse World!

    Thank you and Be SAFE!

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    Figure the $$ cost of that, with 32 salaries going from 42 hours/week to 56 hours/week. Plus you want to add 4 guys. Plus 2 Officers. Yea, it's a heck of a lot safer and better operations, but politicians don't look at that. They look at financial feasibility.

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    Just an addition. There has been talks to put a 2 man ALS Engine company in our North end during day time hours on overtime, This area is a rural area of town that takes the downtown units 10-20 minutes on a "Hot" Response. So upper management is already looking at the feasibility of hiring an additional 8 people. If I had to venture a guess hiring that many will take some time in this economic time period. Another point is that were just at our span of control and there is a mad dash of people getting officer 1. 1 middle management position is coming. Back in 2003 we had a manpower study done. The long and short of the study is they recommend 13-15 men per shift. So there is documentation that the need is there. I totally understand the financial stand point and would love to see my salary go up 20K it would make our dept the highest paid in the state. Our contract is up in 2014 so we will hit the round table next year. FFMedic31 what shift schedule do the departments in illinois run?

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    The norm (from what I've seen) in Illinois is the 24/48 schedule, although there are some departments in the St. Louis area (Collinsville and Edwardsville) that run 24/72.

    If management is looking to add a rig, try to convince them instead to move your quint to this new location and add personnel to it. That seems like it be a better option than adding another understaffed engine.

    Does your ambulance crew respond to fires? Do they pack up, or are they solely for rehab/injuries on-scene? Maybe you could work towards making them a "jump company", so if a structure fire is paged, they respond on the engine, creating a 5-man engine company. Then call mutual aid for an ambulance for a change of quarters to cover your district.

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    Why is the volunteer base dropping?

    What have you done, as a department to address this?
    Train to fight the fires you fight.

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    Check the state labor laws, I believe some say firefighters are treated like "normal jobs" and get overtime at 40 hours which might add cost to the idea.

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    I think your plan would be a great one, but you should also look at Kelly days with that 24/48 shift. This would give you a 48 hour work week on average, with 5 days in a row every 3 weeks. As for pay, maybe you could sweeten the pot for the politicians by going with a slight reduction in hourly wage, but you would still make more with the hours and maybe a little overtime to cover vacancies. You would also be safe with more manpower and be able to provide better fire protection. Start crunching numbers and look at different options. Don't forget to find the good points that you can use for PR with management and the citizens. Good luck.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nameless View Post
    Check the state labor laws, I believe some say firefighters are treated like "normal jobs" and get overtime at 40 hours which might add cost to the idea.
    FLSA says firefighters get OT after 53 hours per week. However, the 24/48 schedule produces built-in OT, which averages out to 3 hours per week. Two weeks are 48-hour weeks, with no OT earned, but the third week is a 72-hour week (Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday) and that's 9 hours over the 53 hour threshold. Some municipalities just average it and give you the same pay every payday. Others add "FLSA Pay" which occurs on two consecutive pays, then skips one, if you're paid every other week, as we are. An alternative is a "Kelly Day" or other means of offsetting the 3-day week.
    E-4-A
    IAFF 1176

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    Firemedic31 there is a 1000 gal engine up there that will be used. Like I said before its a long jog from up there to down town with our only areial device plus its only 500 gal. Our ambulance crew presently when in house jumps to the tower in a hydrant district, and splits in a no hydrant district, on car fires 1 goes to the engine and 1 takes the tanker, makes me scratch my head every time. When that happens the volunteer rescue sqaud (ambulance association) staffs a rig.

    Someone asked why our volunteer firefighter rates decline. Well there isn't really a recruitment and retention program, the companies themselves advertise for help wanted, we have an explorer post that has about a dozen young up comers. We have an average age of 40 for our present volly's. With really no sight of young guys. We also just lost a few to other municipal departments.

    Thank you for the info on the schedule and kelly days.

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    I understand that your plan seesm to be to hire additional staff, which I can understand.

    That being said is there a honest desire in your department to retain the current volunteers and recruit additional volunteers, or has your department turned the corner and has decided to pursue a primarily career path? This question is not meant to start a arguement but is simply asked to get a sense of the direction your department wants to head. At this time i sense an acceptance in your comments that the volunteer base is no longer viable enough to support a large volunteer component. Is this the case?

    If your department does want to retain volunteers, there are several ways to do it. Yes, it will take work, and yes, you may have put some significant effort into developing and executing a well thought out recruiting plan. And if it sounds like I am an advocate for the volunteer component, as compared to hiring, you're right, as I am.

    I think that you may be surprised how many potential volunteers are out there if you take the time to look at what you offer, what type of people you could attract, look at your community and decide where they are and develop a message that will get them interested and possibly bring them in the door. Again, will it be easy? No. But it certainly is doable assuming that your department is still committed to recruiting, training, rewarding (which may cost a little bit of $$$ but nothing compared to the cost of hiring personnel), promoting and retaining volunteer personnel.

    Even if you decide to hire personnel, you can still build up your volunteer roster by developing and implementing a recruiting plan, which will give you additional fireground staffing. Once again, much of this depends on your department's committment to the maintaining the volunteer component.

    Just for your reference, I work fulltime for a combination department with 8 fulltime employees (6 line/ 2 per shift and 2 admin) and 100 volunteer firefighters, junior, support personnel and dispatchers running 1700 calls per year from 6 stations over a 168 square mile area with a population of just over 16,000. We also cover a 28-acre National Guard command, maintaiennce and training facility under contract with the state from a 7th station with state owned apparatus.

    Feel free to e-mail me if you wish me to elaborate on the above.
    Train to fight the fires you fight.

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    LaFire,

    I can't agree with your points more. Our system from what I hear was a premier volunteer service back in the day. Our department has only been a career department coming up on 12 years. It started as a municipal ambulance service. The volunteer chief at the time was the fire marshal who eventually became the paid chief still to this day over 30 years now.

    About our volunteer system. We have a town green area which is our "Main Street USA" and around this main area there are 3 Volunteer firehouses. Co. 1 Engine/Ambulance, Co.2 Engine and Co 3 has nothing they use to have the Tanker, brush truck and tower ladder which is still theirs however we staff. All of Co.3's rigs are out of Headquarters. Co. 4 in the North Rural area, has as mentioned Engine and Tanker. Co. 5 (Rescue Squad) runs the 3 ambulance's and the air and light truck. There is a Volly Assistant Chief, 4 Deputy Chiefs, 3 Fire Captains, 2 EMS Captains and 2 Lt per company. There is no cross staffing on the volunteer side to jump between engines. Its more or less a ****ing match between companies but at the end of this everyone is one happy family.

    Usually one guy responds to the station and gets the rig on the air, in a mad dash to beat us to the scene. Just to state it again "I am pro volunteer." I have no problem with volunteers beating us to the scene but with that said. What are the capabilities of 1 Pump operator with no crew? or better yet the deputy chief that parks the first in attack engine IFO the Fire building and takes command wearing his Nomex street clothes runs in a determines its a false activation or food on the stove. Why not create minimum staffing SOP/SOG of 3 class A interior FF's.

    We do need a recruitment and retention program. I myself have been in talks with other guys about running a annual MRT or maybe EMT-B, Firefighter I and Hazmat Ops class for our people. My past system use to do that and it had great success.

    On the career side we would like more bodies to staff what the boss is asking us to staff safe and effectively. Thank you for you input.

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    I'm not going to comment on your operations except to say that we run roughly the same system where a drivers will pick up apparatus at our volunteer stations and all other volunteer personnel, unless hanging out or doing a ride-out at our Central Station with our paid staff, will respond POV to the scene. Depending on where the incident is, sometimes the paid staff and ride-out volunteers will arrive first with apparatus from Central, and other times, the volunteer staff will arrive first in POVs and/or (a) volunteer engines/tankers/light rescues. it's not uncommon for the first in-volunteer engine to be on-scene driver-only for the initial 1-3 minutes until additional volunteers or career staff arrives. All of that being said, that system works well for us as we are extremly rural and waiting for staffing at the volunteer stations would simply be impractical, however, it may not work well for you, which is cool.

    Of course, we have the advantage of operating as a single department, rather than separate companies. Having observed similiar systems, I can imagine that at times it can pose some challenges.

    As far as recruiting, i would offer this advice. Take a long look at the volunteer companies and make a list of what they offer volunteers - challenge, learning new skills, self-actualization, achievement, community involvement, etc. All of these can be based on Maslov's Hierarchy of needs, which can be very applicable when talking about why folks volunteer. After you make this list, look at your community and decide what groups in your community would likely respond to which needs. As an example, if your high school has ROTC, they likely would respond to a message about camaraderie. Athletes, or folks that workout at the local gym may respond to a message about physical challenge. Older community members and seniors, who may wish to perform pubed or admin duties, may respond to the message regarding community involvement.

    After that, determine avenues where you can reach those groups. Then determine a message for each group. This should be a short, easy to remember slogan with graphics and artwork that will appeal to that group. At this point, you are ready to deliver your messages through flyers, posters, possibly a short video and the internet.

    As far as retention, you need to start by figuring out why you are losing members. Is it training requirement? Is it lack of acknowledgment by leadership or the career staff? One way is a completely anomalous survey within the volunteer component as to why they think members are leaving? Another may be to actually contact folks that have recently left and simply ask them why. After you have done this, decide what can be done about the identified issues.

    Again, I'm not discouraging you from seeking additional career staffing if you think that the volunteers can no longer perform the assigned responsibilities. All I am saying is take a look at the volunteer component from a long way out - the big picture - and see if the department can be made stronger from that avenue.

    As you see, a one message fits all approach is easy and simple, but likely will not be effective. It takes time to identify, locate, and develop a recruiting messages for specific groups in your community, but the effort will pay off in the long run.
    Train to fight the fires you fight.

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    Quote Originally Posted by firemedic4177 View Post
    My idea is going from 24/72 to 24/48. I know there would be opposition going from a 42 hr week to a 56 hr week.

    My question is:

    Would it make sense to change from 24/72 to 24/48, consolidation of 4 shifts into 3 shifts?
    Several unions in my area are preparing to go to court over being forced to make a switch similar to that. I can't imagine your guys volunteering for it. Have you mentioned this plan to anyone else?

    This would give us:

    Deputy or Shift Commander in a car (New spot)
    3 Man Engine
    3 Man Tower Ladder
    3 Man Heavy Rescue
    2 Man Medic Unit
    My first question would be how many medical responses are you making, and if your one medic unit is enough for that or are you constantly begging for mutual aid medics from your neighbors (common in my area). Might be worth it to think about a second ambulance to better serve your community.

    If not, then I'd suggest ditching the Rescue. That personnel move could give you a 4-man engine and a 5-man truck. Now THAT'S an offensive weapon! I've never seen a 4,000-run department running a full-time Heavy. There just isn't enough calls for it to go to (that I could actually justify with a straight face).

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    My department merged the tower and the heavy rescue this year. It doesn't sound like you have a lot of fire, so merging those two pieces might allow you to spread out your staffing more without sacrificing that much flexibility--you could run a 3 man engine and a 3 man truck without hiring anyone else, and if you run less then 20 fires a year, the overlap of the truck and rescue shouldn't cause too many issues where the truck is tied up on a wreck and unable to respond to a fire or vis versa.
    Then you could use additional staffing for a new engine or a second medic unit, while still keeping your structural pieces reasonably well staffed.

    Also, if you have an engine with only 2 FFs and backup 10 minutes away, remember that they'll be limited to exterior operations only until additional units arrive. Would a medic unit serve you better up there, especially since it looks like most of your runs are EMS?

    All in my humble, semi professional opinion, of course.

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