Friday, September 3, 2010

Operational Division Restructuring

Chief Ronald W. Stephens
A recent KIRO TV story about the restructuring of TFD’s Operations Bureau implies that we value supervisory positions over “boots on the ground.”

Frankly, if we acted in the manner that the story suggests, our citizens should be upset with us. Simply put, we haven’t, and we want to take this opportunity to provide some of the details that help complete the story from our perspective.

Why the promotions now?

The majority of the promotions this year are related to the restructuring of our Operations Bureau into three battalions (from two) in an effort to increase firefighter safety.

What we did:  Thirty employees were promoted over a one-year period. Of those thirty, nineteen employees were promoted into openings that were vacant positions (because of normal retirements or other reasons). Seven employees were promoted into existing open positions, and four employees were promoted into upgraded positions.

How did this restructuring make things safer?

We took the same number of firefighters and divided two battalion work groups into three more manageable work groups.

What we did:  Operationally, the battalion chief serves as the incident commander for major incidents in our response area. Four battalion chief (BC) positions (one for each of our four shifts) were created to oversee the third battalion. Prior to creating these positions, we operated with two on-duty BCs. Each BC covered about thirty-five square miles and supervised twelve to thirteen companies. With the additional battalion, each BC now covers an area about twenty-three square miles and supervises eight to nine companies. This change provides for faster response times, better incident management, more effective supervision, and elevates the safety officer to a BC level.

We created the BC positions by upgrading four lieutenant incident safety officer positions. To pay for the difference in the salary between lieutenants and battalion chiefs, a position was eliminated from the budget. A performance audit completed in 2003 and recent departmental accreditation both identified the need to divide our operational response model to conform to national firefighter safety standards. In fact, based on the population we serve, combined with area risk factors, it is recommended that we have a total of four battalions. We have added the third battalion within our current budget and without requiring additional funding.

What does a working supervisor mean?

They are firefighters who continue to work as firefighters and also have supervisory duties.

What we did:  Nineteen of the twenty-two captains, lieutenants, and medics promoted are working firefighters. They work on engine, ladder, and medic companies and respond to 9-1-1 calls for incidents involving fires, emergency medical services, hazardous materials, marine responses, and technical rescue. When our lieutenants and captains respond to a fire, they will be part of the hands-on firefighting operations (e.g., operating hose lines, climbing ladders, and other hands-on tasks). In the case of emergency medical responses, they are all emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics and deliver direct hands-on patient care. They perform these tasks while being charged with the overall supervision and safety of their crews. Although BCs do not generally staff attack lines, climb ladders, and breech doors, the work they do in managing incidents and ensuring firefighter safety is equally important. They, too, are working supervisors.

Finally, two of the promotions involved firefighters working in our communications dispatch center, and one promotion was to a position designated as safety captain. The implication in the KIRO story is that all of these employees are sitting “behind a desk somewhere” and that we have taken them out of their operational duties and not replaced them with entry level firefighters. This is false.

Where is the money coming from to pay for these new supervisory positions this year?

No additional funding was required to create these positions.

What we did:  The funding came from the existing approved Fire Department budget. Twenty-six of the thirty promotions were made into existing open and budgeted positions. Four BC positions were created by upgrading four lieutenant positions. As previously stated, to pay for the difference in the salary between lieutenant and battalion chief positions, a position was eliminated from the budget. There was $47,000 in infrastructure costs associated with the third battalion and safety lieutenant offices/quarters at Stations 8 and 17. Those costs were determined by the Public Works Department and were paid from our existing budget.

When can the taxpayers expect to see replacement firefighter positions again?

Depending on the regional economy, the City of Tacoma budget, and the Fire Department budget, we hope to have the vacant firefighter positions filled by 2012.

What we did:  Due to budget constraints from 2008 through the present, we have thirty-one vacant entry-level firefighter positions. We anticipate filling the vacancies by 2012. Despite current economic obstacles, we still maintain our daily staffing level of seventy-four firefighters on shift (the same number of firefighters we have had on shift for years), and there have been no cutbacks to our essential services.

Finally, as a Center For Public Safety internationally accredited fire agency, Tacoma Fire Department is committed to regularly evaluate and examine all of our programs and services, including this plan, for efficiency and effectiveness.

Tacoma Fire Department appreciates the relationship that we have with the citizen’s we serve and we are grateful for your support.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September is National Preparedness Month

The Tacoma Fire Department Emergency Management Division would like to remind everyone that September is National Preparedness Month (NPM).  NPM focuses attention on what citizens should do to ready themselves, their families and their communities for potential disasters.

According to Ready.Gov, the U.S. government’s official preparedness website, there are three key steps for each citizen to become prepared for an emergency:

1) Get A Kit
2) Make A Plan
3) Be Informed

This year, there is a special emphasis on encouraging everyone to a create an emergency communications plan for their family and finally, be sure to check out the great regional resources provide by the Washington State Emergency Management Division.