Monroe, North Carolina Fire Chief Seeks Funds To Hire And Equip 19 More Employees

Fire Chief Ron Fowler laid out a pricey request to the Monroe City Council last week: He's asking for 19 more employees to increase the size of firefighting crews.

The potential price for the city: more than $868,000 a year in salaries, benefits and equipment.

But, as Fowler outlined to the council Tuesday, without the additional firefighters, the cost to the department could be greater.

"The primary reason we're here is to provide fire protection," Fowler told the council. "I think the most important challenge is providing that service in the safest environment we can for our firefighters."

Fowler presented what council member Robert Smith called "exhaustive studies" showing it is safer for firefighters to respond to emergencies in teams of four rather than teams of three. Monroe's fire department now staffs mostly three-member teams.

One report Fowler presented stated that about 80,000 firefighters are injured in the line of duty every year.

The Monroe Fire Department will have 64 full-time employees in January. An additional 19 fire staff members will be enough for each shift at Monroe's five fire stations to have four firefighters per team, Fowler said.

Fowler asked the council to consider funding the 19 positions over two years. Each position would cost about $45,700 a year: $30,700 for salary, $11,500 for benefits and $3,500 for equipment and uniforms.

Sonia Vizcaino, Monroe finance and administration director, told the council there most likely would not be a budget surplus to fund the positions in the next two fiscal years.

Mayor Judy Davis told the council that it had several decisions to think about, including whether to fund Fowler's request. If council members do hire the firefighters, they will have to decide whether to raise taxes or find another way to pay for them.

City Manager Doug Spell said the city would have to raise taxes 2 cents in 2005 and another 2 cents in 2006 to fund the positions out of the city budget.

The council did not make any decisions about Fowler's request, and will discuss it at its retreat in February.