CBJ addresses fire rescue staff issue

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) With over 5,000 calls last year and another increase this year, Capital City Fire Rescue said they need help.

    Fire Chief Rich Etheridge gave a presentation to the CBJ Committee of the Whole about the Fitch report, a private study on local fire and EMS needs.  Call volumes have risen between 13-17 percent in the past few years.  It is expected the increase in calls will rise by at least 3-5 percent annually due to the aging population.

    "Our guys are tired.  Some of the suggestions will be easy to implement, we don't want any knee jerk solutions with unintended consequences," he added.

    The suggestions range from a new ambulance 12 hours per day, 9 am to 9 pm, additional engines and apparatus at stations downtown and Auke Bay, additional staff to take some of the work load off the Assistant Fire Chiefs who often work 70 hours per week, and a new fire station in Lemon Creek.  The options range from adding two staff members to nine staff members.  The costs range from $299,576 to $794,249.

    EMS accounts for 76 percent of the calls and fire account for 18 percent of calls each year.  Altered mental status was the most common EMS call followed by general weakness 289, chest pain 256, behavioral problem 198, and abdominal pain 193.  There were also 113 drug overdoses, 151 seizures, and 64 head injuries, July and August are the busiest months while February is the slowest month for calls.  An additional ambulance is in service during the cruise ship season thanks to the cruise ship industry.  CCFR currently operates five fire stations and has an average travel time per call of 5.4 minutes.  The report found 80 percent of calls for service were reached within seven minutes of drive time.  The downtown fire station is the busiest with 2,690 calls last year.  The Glacier station was second with 2,002 calls.  In 20 percent of calls from station one they receive another call before completion of the first call.  This is called a simultaneous event.  In 17 percent of calls the Glacier station has simultaneous events. 

    Juneau does not have any mutual aid partners to assist due to its isolated location.

    In response to the report, the City Manager recommended the CBJ immediately allocate $350,000 to add an additional ambulance and four additional staff for a 12 hours per day.  The plan is to have an ordinance for the full Assembly review on July 23 with a public hearing tentatively set for August 13.

    Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said there was a compelling argument for the addition of a new ambulance.  She told the Assembly they endorse the new positions and would provide more definitive plans later.  "I think there is a value to bringing on a crew as quickly as possible.  Capital City Fire Rescue has been exceeding expectations."

    City Manager Rorie Watt said he would not force a decision tonight but would like a path created toward the addition of staff. He suggested an appropriation ordinance for CCFR at the next Assembly meeting.  "If we begin recruitment now we can get the ball rolling."

    Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said she was ready to say go for it and get more resources for CCFR.  "This is a not exact prescription.  Staff is still looking at the report.  This is support for doing something on the order of adding ambulance staff."

    Assembly member Beth Weldon said this would be a bandade approach.  She said there has been a 2,200 increase in calls without a staff change.  "Given them four 12 hours is whoop-de-do.  I would give them six full time, 24 hours, seven days per week fire fighters."  She said getting six firefighters for an additional $125,000 would be a bargain price.  "We have to give these people more staff.  These people need some rest."

    Gladziszewski said she supported taking one step forward now and perhaps more steps when they have more information.

    Weldon said the police department got $600,000 and haven't seen the increase in call volume that the firemen have.  She opposed an idea to put firefighters on call when off duty. 

    "I think we have the money in the budget right now.  There is no question that we need this," she added.  Weldon's motion for six firemen failed 4-4. 

    Assembly member Norton Gregory said he'd like to see more use of technology.  He said he expects additional population.  He predicted an increase in calls due to the aging population.

    Mayor Ken Koelsch said he thinks the item should go to the Finance Committee first.   He said they should consider hiring between four and nine firemen and look at the new station at Lemon Creek.  "I think we need to focus on what we are doing and do it right."

    The Assembly approved the staff devise an appropriation ordinance for four to six staff.



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