City Council to weigh options for increasing fire staffing | PostIndependent.com
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City Council to weigh options for increasing fire staffing

City officials must find a balance between risk and cost as they consider how to address a staffing shortfall in the Glenwood Springs Fire Department.That’s the assessment of a memo prepared for City Council by fire chief Mike Piper, city manager Jeff Hecksel and city finance director Mike Harman.Council is scheduled to meet in a 5 p.m. work session at City Hall Thursday to assess the city’s options for addressing a threatened downgrading in the fire department’s rating by the Insurance Services Office (ISO).The threatened drop from a 4 to a 10 rating – ISO’s worst – could mean sharp increases in property insurance premiums charged by companies that rely on ISO’s information. Premiums wouldn’t be affected in the case of insurance companies that don’t work with ISO.The city and Glenwood Springs Rural Fire Protection District, which jointly fund the department, have until June 1 to try to satisfactorily address ISO’s concerns and avert a downgrade.The options range from doing nothing – which creates the greatest risk of a downgrade – to increasing full-time paid staff, which represents the least risk of a downgrade, the city staff members say in their memo.But the staff increase represents the costliest option as well. And as it stands, neither the city nor the district has surplus money in its general fund, the memo states.In recent years Piper has repeatedly asked unsuccessfully for permission to add nine more firefighters to his department, which now has 20 full-time staff. The expansion would cost more than $500,000.Adding volunteers is the cheapest option available, requiring $20,000 in training. The department has only two volunteers now, far fewer than neighboring departments. But the department would have to recruit 27 volunteers to achieve the same kind of ISO rating credit it would get by hiring nine full-time firefighters.City staff say it’s unknown how many volunteers could be recruited and retained. There’s also no guarantee that adding 27 would allow the department to respond with at least four firefighters to each fire – the minimum ISO requires to avoid issuing a 10 rating. But hiring nine firefighters also provides no guarantee of that, officials say.The memo also notes that the use of part-time reserve firefighters is a middle-of-the-road option for the department. The city already employs five reserves, and has authorized the department to hire about 11 more. Ten candidates recently applied for the openings and seven remain after testing.Another option cited in the memo is creating a residency program in which staff live at fire stations and respond to calls outside of their daily obligations. Such programs often make use of college students.Yet another option would be to cross-train existing city personnel working in other departments. But there are questions about how many might volunteer for firefighting duties, how to avoid leaving other departments short-staffed in emergencies, and how significant wage and hour impacts might be in the case of after-hours emergency calls.As city officials move forward with evaluating their options, they also continue to maintain that ISO has failed to provide clear justification for its threatened downgrade.”Based on the lack of justification, it is apparent the ISO does not follow their own methodology for establishing fire ratings. Their system appears to be subjective,” the staff memo states.However, the memo acknowledges concern about the issue that goes beyond ISO. Some members of the public also have questioned whether the department has been responding quickly enough, and with enough firefighters, to some recent incidents.”Based on some public comment, it has been suggested that the city’s call response priorities are not consistent with the expectations of the public. To determine if the department’s priorities and call response protocols are consistent with public expectations, a complete review of the department’s call response protocols would need to be reviewed and evaluated,” the memo says.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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