For Immediate Release
Fire Unit Closures; Council Approves Filling Police/Fire Vacancies
The number of Springfield Fire Department vacancies expected this spring will require shutting down a unit on a rotating basis when staffing falls below certain levels effective April 27, 2009. For single-unit stations, this will mean shutting down that station for its 24-hour shift.
The City Council today gave its approval to begin the process to hire five firefighters and 10 police officers to backfill frozen positions as soon as possible after the new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2009.
During a presentation previewing the FY10 budget today, City Manager Greg Burris asked the City Council to consider early approval of an FY10 budget item to hire five firefighters and 10 police officers to backfill some of the frozen positions. Burris said the proposed FY10 budget will apply ongoing revenue available after July 1, 2009 from increased gross-receipts taxes to address staffing issues in both the Fire and Police Departments. Any new employees will be hired into the Tier II Police/Fire pension plan.
In addition, Burris said today the Finance Department has identified approximately $150,000 from additional vacancies in the current year’s budget to provide more Fire overtime pay to lessen the impact of the staffing shortfall.
The Fire Department is committed to maintaining its public-safety response for the highest possible level of fire protection with as minimal disruption as possible to the community.
New Springfield firefighters require four to six weeks of on-the-job training depending on their previous firefighting experience. If a 10-member Police Academy class opens about July 1, training takes about a year before officers are proficient to work on their own.
The Fire Department staffing shortage, which started with five open positions for the FY09 fiscal year, is expected to reach 20 vacant positions within the next 60 days due to the higher-than-expected number of retirement and resignation papers submitted to the Police/Fire Pension Board. The authorized uniformed firefighter staffing level is 212.
The Police Department has 34 openings within the authorized force of 326 related to the current General Fund hiring freeze and military leave. The number of commissioned staff retiring and resigning also is higher than expected in the Police Department. Police Chief Lynn Rowe said his priority is to maintain street patrol to answer basic calls for service, which requires shifting some officers from specific neighborhood assignments.
“The uncertainty over the future of the pension plan and the ongoing negative publicity has led to more resignations than we expected among those who have reached eligibility and are opting not to continue until their maximum age to retire,” Fire Chief Barry Rowell said.
The Springfield Fire Department requires a minimum daily staffing level of 51 personnel to cover all 16 units at the city’s 12 stations. Currently, the Department is using overtime to maintain that staffing level. With more vacancies than expected, the amount of overtime budgeted for FY09 is expected to run out by mid May.
Burris said he plans to use additional savings from this year's budget to put about $150,000 in additional funding in the current fiscal year's Fire overtime budget. That funding is estimated to cover enough overtime to maintain at least a 48-person staffing level from mid May through June 30 in order to limit unit shutdowns to one at a time. A 48-person staffing level will require one unit to be taken out of service on a rotating basis among the City's 12 fire stations. Without the additional overtime funding, two or three units would need to be shut down on a consistent basis through June 30.
Four Fire Stations house two units, so one unit would remain in service. But when the rotation hits stations with only one unit, it will necessitate closing the station for that 24-hour shift. The Fire Department believes it is more equitable to all citizens to rotate the closure of one of the 16 units operating at all 12 stations during this period until June 30. This operational plan will be reviewed once the FY10 annual budget is approved.
When a unit shutdown requires a station closing, the information will be made public on the City's Web site, www.springfieldmo.gov, and signs will be posted at the stations with information to contact 911 or a non-emergency phone number. Each fire station has an emergency call phone located outside where walk-up visitors can call for emergency assistance.
Other procedures that will be followed when one unit is out of service and there is working fire include:
- The Department will reduce the number of vehicles sent initially to each type of call.
- The Department will not provide mutual aid to area departments.
- The Department will not respond to haz-mat or water-rescue calls outside of Springfield.
- If the Department has two working fires at once, it will limit the types of non-emergency calls it will respond to; respond only to EMS calls for cardiac or respiratory arrest; may make emergency personnel callbacks; and may request mutual-aid assistance from neighboring departments to cover in Springfield.
In addition to the operational plan, the Department is taking the following steps to address the staffing shortage:
- No overtime is being used to maintain minimum staffing levels for Haz Mat, Water Rescue or Technical Rescue. When incidents require these operations, the on-call Chief will determine emergency call-in or request mutual aid.
- Chief Officers will respond to calls during working hours and off hours to cover for Battalion Chiefs when on leave.
- All travel-related training is suspended so it does not contribute to decreased staffing levels.
For more information, contact: Fire Chief Barry Rowell, 864-1500; or Police Chief Lynn Rowe, 864-1782.