Officials seek solution to staffing problems for fire department
Brenda Armstrong DAILY HERALD
When the fire station alarm goes off in Pleasant Grove on any weekday, Fire Chief Mark Hales worries that soon he will not have enough trained and certified firefighters to respond to the call.
Hales hopes the city will recognize his need for more personnel, though he realizes the city doesn't have much money to give to the situation.
"With the tax base that we don't have, we don't have the money right now to hire part-time or full-time employees," Hales said. "Hopefully we will acquire optional funding allowing us to hire employees that can work 10- to 12-hour shifts on a constant basis."
There are four full-time employees and 46 volunteers who help cover both day and night fire and medical calls. There are also seven city employees who can help cover fire and medical calls. A daytime shift should consist of a primary crew of two to four people, Hales said.
The EMTs and firefighters are responsible for more than 38,000 people in Lindon and Pleasant Grove.
City Council member Mike Daniels, who is over the city's Public Safety Department, said city officials recognize there's a problem and have asked the fire department staff to bring a recommendation to the council in three months.
"We are working on these issues now. We are exploring different strategies and looking at various ways to take care of day shift coverage."
But, Daniels said, the real solution may be to re-evaluate the city's use of a volunteer fire department to handle the growing need.
"The solution to this is a long-term strategy," he said. "As we become a real city, the question becomes can we completely have a staff of volunteers or do we need to convert to full-time staff."
The city has seen a steady increase in the number of fire and medical calls over the past 10 years, despite the fact the department no longer covers Cedar Hills, American Fork Canyon and American Fork Hospital transports.
In 1994, 856 emergency medical service and 167 fire calls were reported. In 2004, those numbers increased to 1,238 emergency medical calls and 438 fire calls.
Hales said he is concerned the trend will continue.
"We are looking at our future staffing needs for the increased workloads that we are experiencing," he said. "Right now we are forced to draw from city employees who are certified EMTs in order to cover many of our daytime shifts. It pulls away from their duties to the city, but they are willing to help out."
Full-time Rescue Captain Ryan Rasmussen said that in addition to relying on the help of city employees, outside agencies from Orem and Lone Peak have also been used for backup. An underlying problem is most volunteers live in Pleasant Grove but work in a different city.
"Fifteen to 20 years ago, firefighters worked in local businesses around town," Hales added. "Now most of our volunteer staff work in surrounding cities, and it is not always easy to respond."
To help the situation, fire department staff is actively looking into grants and other funding options that will allow the department to hire part-time personnel over the next few years.
In addition to daytime coverage concerns, the fire department is also looking ahead at making changes for night coverage.
"Right now there are six teams staffing four individuals per team," Rasmussen said. "Through attrition we want to reduce the numbers to three individuals per team. By reducing these numbers, there will be a greater opportunity for employees to use their skills. It will also reduce payroll expenses by 25 percent within the department."
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03-10-2005, 11:42 AM #1
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