Panel in Minnesota Says 20 Safety Officers Needed

Woodbury should hire more than 20 public-safety officers over the next five years to keep up with residents' needs, a city task force said in a draft report released Tuesday.

Moreover, a majority of the new hires should be cross-trained police officers who also can work as firefighters and emergency medical responders, the report said.

The findings are the result of nearly a year's worth of research by the city's Fire/Emergency Medical Services Task Force, created last fall after the public safety department's request to add three firefighters was put on hold.

City officials decided that the task force could help plan for public-safety personnel additions rather than irregularly responding to annual requests for staff.

The study found that from 2000 to 2004, calls for fire, police and emergency medical services increased an average of 24 percent while the population increased by 11 percent. The city has hired four full-time firefighters/emergency-medical technicians since 2001, but has about 60 paid, on-call firefighters the same number as in 1991.

The task force's key recommendation is to adopt the integrated staffing model, where some police officers would be able to perform fire and EMS duties.

"We find that this is an innovative way to solve the problems, and when I say problems, the city has grown to a point that we do need 24-hour coverage," said Council Member Cheryl Hurst, who serves on the task force.

The task force said that the city should hire 14 cross-trained public-safety officers, at least five full-time firefighters and four watch commanders. That would allow the city to have on duty at all times two full-time firefighters, three cross-trained police officers and command staff, in addition to the on-call firefighters.

Existing police officers would not need to become certified firefighters under the plan, although officers hired in 2006 and later would be required to receive either paramedic or firefighter certification.

The plan could cost up to $2.5 million over five years. The task force is looking into several ways to cover that cost, including fire inspection fees and a grant that has been requested from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program that helps departments hire personnel.

The City Council is reviewing the recommendations, and a final report is expected before 2006 budget meetings begin later this year.

"The task force put in a lot of long, hard hours to come up with what we think is a reasonable recommendation," said Bill Hering, Woodbury's director of public safety.

"I hope that the City Council finds it suitable, and I hope that we go forward with it."

Nancy Yang can be reached at nyang@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5480.

Distributed by the Associated Press

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