Fire Chief Asks City to Fund Two New Full Time Firefighter Positions

May 23, 2013
Dwayne Page
Fire Chief Charlie Parker (older photo)

Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker is asking the aldermen to fund two more full time firefighter positions in the new budget year, which begins July 1.

Parker made the request during a budget workshop with the mayor and aldermen Tuesday night. Other department heads also made budget requests to meet their needs. No final decision has been made. The mayor and aldermen will meet in another budget workshop next Tuesday night, May 28 at city hall.

Throughout its history, the city fire department has been made up totally of volunteers until last summer when the aldermen, at the request of the department, funded one permanent full time position, a fire administrator. Chief Parker was hired to fill that job. He is now paid a salary of $35,350 per year plus health, life, and dental insurance benefits. The same benefits as all other city employees.

The city also purchased the department's first ever ladder truck last year. The cost of the truck was $746,305 but all the money for the purchase was appropriated from the city's general fund reserve.

During Tuesday night's workshop, Parker expressed his appreciation to the mayor and aldermen for their support of the fire department, but said more help is needed. "The biggest thing we're asking for again this time is to see if we can add some personnel. I know we made a big accomplishment last year by putting one (person) on. I do appreciate that. I think that is giving us a good start to move forward. But there are still a lot of things to maintain. We still have a shortage of personnel during the day time. We've got people who work second and third shift now that can't always get out during the day time. The biggest part of our day crew works at some of these factories (locally) or out of town and can't come (during a day time fire call). So we're at a shortage through the day," he said.

Chief Parker is asking the city to fund two new firefighter positions at 40 hours per week with their salaries to be set between $28,000 to $32,000 based on their qualifications, experience, training, years of service, plus benefits. "That doesn't give us coverage around the clock but it does during the day when we have several calls and make business contacts. I'd love to have some folks here twenty four hours a day but we just don't have the tax base to afford that right now," he said.

"There is only so much that one person can do here at the fire hall. I can keep up with the reports and the paper work that occurs daily but for safety, I can't respond to calls without someone else," said Chief Parker. "The real work takes more help. We have hydrants that need to be flushed and tested twice a year. Right now, we do not meet the state standards with our hydrants. We have several business and factory pre-plans that need to be started and updated so we know if they add chemicals or other hazards. The normal maintenance on the vehicles and buildings can be overwhelming at times and the volunteers can only do so much at night," he said.

"Two positions at 40 hours each like me would allow us to do all of this and more," according to Chief Parker. "We could actually get someone certified to do fire inspections and possibly start responding to first responder medical calls. I am working with our ISO representative on things to lower our classification (for homeowners Insurance purposes). He (ISO representative) said that adding any personnel would help lower our ISO rating. With the new ladder truck and some extra work, we should be able to lower our classification at least one and maybe two classes. A lower ISO rating would result in lower insurance rates for the public. A lower ISO rating and at least some full time positions would also be attractive to industries looking to relocate here," said Chief Parker.

Under the proposal, the fire department's budget would total $330,000, which is up from $185,902 in 2012-13 (not counting purchase of ladder truck) and an increase from $164,300 in the 2011-12 year. One third of the proposed fire department budget would go to fund three full time positions. Salaries would go from $35,350 (one position) to $110,000 per year (total of three positions). Payroll taxes would increase from $8,535 to $9,000 and the employee health insurance benefit would jump from $8,365 to $25,500 to cover the three positions.

The city's financial consultant Janice Plemmons-Jackson cautioned the mayor and aldermen about adding recurring expenses to the budget. While the city has healthy general fund reserves of over three million dollars, Jackson said the city's revenue streams for annual operation are not keeping pace with spending and if the trend continues, a property tax increase may be needed before too long. Aldermen Shawn Jacobs and Gayla Hendrix, who support Chief Parker's requests, indicated they would be open to the idea of making spending cuts in other areas of the budget to offset the expense of at least one new firefighter position this coming year.

The city budgets $50,000 each year for "payment to volunteers" which is divided among the firefighters to compensate them for their response to calls throughout the year. That amount would remain unchanged in the proposed budget. The allocation for Junior firefighters ($2,000) and for utilities ($3,000) would remain the same next year as well as $4,000 for uniform allowance, $4,000 for miscellaneous expense, $5,000 for vehicle parts and repair, and $20,000 for insurance.

Chief Parker proposes to change the bonus pay to firefighters. " Currently, we pay a $500 bonus to firefighters who have served over 10 years. I would like to change that to $250 for every five years of service. I hope this will increase the incentive (for firefighters) to stay with the department. At present, that would add about five firefighters at $1,250," he said.

The allocation for telephone expense would increase from $2,500 to $3,500 under the proposed budget for the fire department. "The main reason for the increase is we want to purchase I-pads for the engines and rescue trucks, " according to Chief Parker. "The monthly internet fee will be $30 per device per month. The 911 center is in the process of changing their mapping system and with the purchase of I-Pads we will be able to directly connect with 911. The I-Pads will also aid in finding hydrants making it quicker responding to a fire. We will also be able to upload information on our businesses, their layout, hazards, notes, or any information we would be able to have in real time," said Chief Parker.

The fire department budget includes a new line item of $5,000 for training and travel. "Currently, we have been paying for training and travel out of the miscellaneous account," said Chief Parker. "We are fortunate to have an increasing number of creditable training classes across our state and neighboring states. I have firefighters that are willing to take off work and leave home to take these trainings and bring back the knowledge they pick up. We are also fortunate this year to have the opportunity for a few of our firefighters to attend the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland that I hope we are able to attend," he said.

A capital outlay allocation of $55,000 is requested to replace hoses and equipment. " I just received an unofficial notice that fire hose older than 25 years may have to be taken out of service. If this is the case, we have about 1,500 feet of hose that would have to be replaced and that is somewhere around $5,000 to replace, said Chief Parker.

"I would also like to request to start putting money back to purchase vehicles and equipment. I would first like to be able to purchase a used rescue vehicle to replace two vehicles we currently have. We can even sell or trade those trucks. Then within the next four years, we have one fire engine that will be considered an antique and the other will be fifteen years old. In the near future, we also have rescue equipment and SCBA air packs to replace which runs between 30 and 40 thousand dollars. I think we need to start now for upcoming expenditures," said Chief Parker.

The proposed fire department budget would reduce spending for repairs and maintenance from $15,000 to $10,000; funding for gas, oil, and grease would decrease from $10,000 to $8,000; and the line item for supplies would decrease from $18,000 to $16,000. "We need to replace our PPV Fan and at least one ground ladder. We have a few SCBA bottles that will expire soon and we will have to purchase new ones. We will also be replacing some of our SCBA (Air Packs) masks. We would also like to purchase a washing machine to take care of our new turnout if possible," said Chief Parker.

While chances are slim that the city could qualify for grants to help fund staffing of personnel, Chief Parker said he would like to try again. " With the permission of the board. I would still like to apply for another SAFER grant and the equipment grant but I don't think we need to count on them. We have never done very well with the grants. If we get one we'll be tickled to death but I think we need to be realistic and plan on some of these things for the future," said Chief Parker.

The Smithville Fire Department currently has in its fleet a 1980 service truck, a 1992 fire engine, a 1998 rescue vehicle, a 2001 fire engine, a 2006 pickup, and a 2012 Quint ladder truck. Alderman Tim Stribling asked if the city could sell the oldest fire truck before it becomes outdated while it still has value. "It is still an in-use truck," replied Chief Parker. "With some of the factories, to cover those size buildings and even some of the bigger churches we've got to have so many gallons per minute of pump capacity. The ladder truck and those other two trucks give us that pump capacity. If we sell that old truck now then we won't meet the qualifications to do the gallons per minute," he said.

"Our vehicle fleet is in pretty good shape. This year will put our 1992 fire engine at 21 years old and the 2001 engine at 11 years old which means that within four years, the oldest one will be considered an antique and the other will be fifteen years old. I think the people of Smithville deserve better than having an antique fire engine to protect them. I think we need to starting planning now because we know we are going to have to purchase vehicles in the not so distant future so let's plan for it," said Chief Parker.

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