An open letter to the editor:
The Yarmouth Fire Department is pleased to announce we have received a federal grant to hire 4 additional firefighter paramedics. This grant award pays $625,000 in salaries and benefits for 2 years. Receiving this award; one of only 5 communities in the state so far, is evidence of our need. Formal studies completed in 2002 recommended we increase our staffing as well.
In order to accept the grant, we will need to pass an override of $326,068. The override will pay firefighter paramedics salaries in fiscal year 2014 once the funds expire. We realize that you have been asked for overrides before, and we realize the difficult financial times we are in. My goal and responsibility is to protect the public, and we make every effort to find available dollars outside of tax levy to do so.
There are two major issues facing us. 1. The department faces what we are calling a “Structural deficit” in our budget of $300,000. This means, that every year, we have to find $300,000 to make our budget break even. This amount is in addition to what we have received in previous overrides. The logical question to ask is how we have made it so far? The answer: we have used capital money we get from ambulance billing. We move that money to the operating budget. The result is, we are running out of the ambulance money and will no longer be able to cover costs.
We are the busiest department on Cape Cod, having answered 6,694 emergency calls last year.
Overtime is caused by emergency calls; having personnel come back to work for emergencies to ensure we can answer additional 911 calls. When personnel take time off from work or get injured in the line of duty, we pay overtime for someone to work for them. Contractual time off for personnel has not increased in many years, but calls have gone up approximately 35% in 10 years.
We are the busiest department on Cape Cod, having answered 6,694 emergency calls last year. That equates to a little over 18 calls a day, and each call can take an hour, or many hours to manage. In between calls, personnel have to train, check equipment and do chores and projects around the station. Close to 30% of emergency calls come in at the same time, one after the other, which means personnel must be called back to ensure there is someone to respond.
Problem number 2. We do not have adequate numbers of paramedics. Because of vacations, retirements, etc… we sometimes have only one paramedic on duty! This means, if another paramedic is needed, we have to call someone in on overtime.
We have done and are doing many things to try and control our overtime and costs in general. For Example: firefighters made agreements on modifying staffing levels, and took a zero percent pay raise (this saved a great deal of money and reduced our overtime significantly). We reduced administrative overtime, and made ambulance billing more efficient. We anticipate purchasing computer program that will track and manage staffing and save up to $30,000 a year. We are also participating in several regional initiatives. We are working very hard to be efficient. It is my hope that with efficiency and your support we can get the budget to a sustainable level so we do not have to continue to ask for large overrides.
I hope you will support us as we do you. We stand ready to answer any questions you may have. Do not hesitate to call and ask us to speak to us.
Chief Michael A. Walker
Yarmouth Fire Department