At our last community council meeting, we learned that the city is eliminating the rolling closures that have closed our fire stations on rotating days throughout 2009. That is the good news.
The bad news is that several of the Fire Department’s special teams are slated to be mothballed for the winter. The city has several special teams trained for rescues in water, backcountry, trenches, as well as urban search and HAZMAT. The teams that are federally funded, like HAZMAT, will continue, but not the water and backcountry teams.
Maybe there aren’t many calls for mudflat rescues in winter, but it is shortsighted to shelve a team that responds to avalanches and other winter emergencies. Replacing this service with a volunteer organization may not provide the same timely response. It was bad enough to have the team shut down on Solstice—the most popular day of the year to climb Flattop—due to rolling closures at the team’s home station, but to propose a winter closure shows someone does not grasp the fickleness of our weather nor the habits of our residents.
The cost of these teams includes a certain percentage of the base pay of the firemen on the team, plus training and equipment. What needs to be asked is whether the city is asking for reimbursement from the State Troopers for the backcountry team because this duty falls, legally, to the Troopers. Every rescue call starts with clarification from the Troopers that they are indeed delegating the rescue to the Fire Department. The same question should be asked of the Coast Guard because water rescues fall to them. If the city is doing these rescues without reimbursement, why?
There’s another area of the Fire Department’s budget that seems to be off limits for cuts—that of the Fire Battalion chiefs. Three Battalion chiefs respond to each event. Their purpose, in short, is to ensure fires are handled properly. There are no regulations requiring three to be present. Most cities have two Battalion chiefs at each event, as did Anchorage until a few years ago. Anchorage now has a third Battalion chief position (three total, one per shift)—which is filled with a paramedic—personnel with extensive emergency medical experience, but little firefighting experience. Battalion chiefs are normally highly experienced fire officers. A paramedic as a Battalion chief does nothing to ensure the safety or quality of a fire response.
There is a real shortage of medics at many fire stations. Do you know if there is a medic assigned to each of the three shifts at your local fire station? The public would be served better if the third Battalion chief (non-union) position was eliminated. Return the medics to the places they are needed most.
Some people think our “Big Wild Life” occurs inside Chilkoots. If we are touting our motto to visitors and residents alike, it is incumbent upon the city to be prepared to deal with those who partake of our WILDerness opportunities. The city budget should be prepared with knowledge and logic, not favoritism, ignorance and politics.