Survival with current part-time staffing tenuous
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – Potential solutions to the city’s staffing woes with its part-time Fire Department employees were discussed at length but not resolved at a June 10 City Council study session.
Fire Department personnel include emergency medical technicians, whose call volume is heavily impacted by the relatively large volume of senior care facilities in the city.
Fire Chief Ron Lammers and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Pool met with council members and other city officials during an extended study session to discuss the department’s direction and survival, with staffing issues, pay, run volume and employee burnout and turnover at the forefront.
Currently, the part-time employees, who frequently work other jobs, leave seeking better pay and benefits, as well as different scheduling options.
The increasing demand for stable and consistent EMT and paramedic staffing is a critical issue.
City Manager Doug Drysdale said he is looking at logistics for three possible emergency medical response scenarios at the city council’s request: looking to other communities to see if any wish to take over the city’s ambulance services; contract with private ambulance firms; and reduce the city’s licensure from advanced life support to basic life support.
Lammers said such a move would decrease the revenue the city receives for providing advanced life support ambulance services.
Mayor Andrew Swift reiterated that the staffing issue is the most pressing issue that city officials need to address, as opposed to ambulance revenue.
Councilman Bill Towle expressed concern that with summer approaching, staffing shortage issues will intensify, as experienced in past years, and asked what steps will address staffing shortages in the next six weeks, and which concerns will be addressed three months from now and further out.
Swift agreed that it is critical to have ambulances staffed and available.
Lammers said pay impacts staffing issues, and said you can’t get part-time fire fighters for $15 an hour.
“It is extremely difficult to get people,” Lammers said. “At $15 an hour, we are the lowest out there, and we are not getting the applicants. We are not even drawing applications.”
Lammers said when one community increases wages, other communities feel compelled to do the same, and wages are always the top bargaining chip.
“It’s a constant trying to keep up,” Lammers said.
Drysdale said there are two key considerations: the level of service the city wants to provide to residents, which he said is a non-monetary consideration, but also the cost of providing that service.
“Doing some of these options that we have given you, you are going to be providing the same level (of services), but it is going to increase the cost if we lose the revenue,” Drysdale said. “The revenue is a big piece that offsets our costs.”
Councilman Jim Trombley asked where the money would come from to address staffing concerns.
“That is my question,” Trombley said. “I am just not crapping this money, and I’ve got other issues elsewhere that I have to contend with, and I cannot be taking money here when I am going to be needing it later on, because I am going to need an 8 to 11 mill somewhere that I am going to have to come up with.
“I can’t add to my costs. I have to decrease my costs, but try to keep the same services. That’s tough – very tough.”
Drysdale said they do not have a source for all of the revenue, and on a short-term basis, money from insurance refunds will help offset the cost of the short-term, one-time fix of providing adequate staffing for ambulance services.
“There are SAFER grants that we can apply for, but again, that is a short-term fix,” Drysdale said.
SAFER grants, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, were created to help communities maintain or increase the number of trained, front line emergency responders, to enhance fire departments’ ability to comply with needed staffing levels and response and operational standards.
Drysdale said there is no revenue source to offset the increased demand.
Trombley expressed concern about the nature of the short-term fix.
“Sooner or later it is going to come back to bite us,” he said. “So, we’ve got to plan this the right way, we’ve got to look at all the different options, and then we’ve got to be strategic about it.”
Drysdale agreed that the focus needs to be on a long-term solution.
“We need to look at these options from a long-term basis, too,” Drysdale said. “We will have to find the money somehow.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])