Ga. Chief Shares Revenue Success Strategies

Dallas, Texas -- While many departments around the nation face layoffs, furloughs and other cutbacks, one Georgia fire chief is proud to be providing salary increases.

Chief Mark Herendeen of Morrow, Ga., a small city in the metro Atlanta area, presented Saturday at Fire-Rescue International on creating revenue in a tough economy.

"We have to be creative about how we're going to survive in this economy," he said. His discussion focused on user fees, violation fees and inspection fees, as well as non-emergency transport.

User fees, which didn't exist until recent years, are now becoming common. "Everybody in public safety is trying to add that dollar," Herendeen said, especially when it comes to transport. "If you're not charging for them, start," he said.

Herendeen also urged departments to be open-minded about non-emergency medical transport. "I didn't initially want to do them, but we're reaping the benefits," he said. The numbers for his side business speak for themselves. Using a separate, part-time staff to run two reserve/used ambulances, his average monthly operating cost is $25,000 and his average monthly revenue is $50,000, resulting in a yearly net profit of about $300,000. No one in the department is objecting to that.

For the Morrow fire department there was no overhead involved in adding non-emergency transport, and no issue of competing with private companies because they only handle overflow business, no contracts.

Another top revenue source for the Morrow fire department is their enforcement of fire lane violations. To illustrate the value, Herendeen presented a photo of his department's new $30,000 workout room, paid for by one year of these fees.

The chief also noted the practical benefits of code enforcement. By cracking down on nuisance false alarms, they reduced their false alarm call rate from 303 to 197 in the first year, he said.

Additional revenue ideas include refusal fees; fire truck response fees for extrications; air transport landing zone set-up fees, fire inspection fees for commercial businesses, EMT class fees and structure fire fees.

Herendeen advises chiefs to find out what ordinances are on the books -- or should be proposed -- for their municipalities, and how they or their local police department can handle enforcement. Fire chiefs of municipalities can generally get the authority to issue their own citations, he said. To research municipal codes he suggests visiting www.municode.com.

Herendeen stressed that his department is reasonable in their enforcement and maintains an excellent relationship with the community. They write off transport fees for residents without insurance, they write off refusal fees for patients who didn't call 911 themselves, they allow a certain number of "free" false alarm calls, etc.

"The citizens still love us," he said, and they continue to visit the fire department for free services including home safety inspections, car seat checks, blood pressure checks and smoke alarm installations.

Herendeen conceded that change has been a challenge and that not every idea will work for every fire department. "But," he said, "I guarantee there's a piece of this you can take home."

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