A Thought on Minimum Manning
I know and trust Lieutenant Michael Morse of the Providence Fire Department, and he certainly makes some persuasive points on minimum manning:
From my seat I witness Providence’s manpower used beyond the breaking point daily. Day after day, we are forced to tap resources from surrounding communities to answer 911 calls. Crews from Cranston, East Providence, Johnston, Pawtucket and anywhere else Providence can find fill the void when we need emergency responders. The people in those communities are under-protected while their first responders are busy bailing out their neighbors in the capital. It is a recipe for disaster. …
One thing that is imperative in the fire/EMS service is consistency. From our end, we need to know where our resources lie, how long before they arrive, and how many will show up when called. While I am doing CPR with my partner, I’m also formulating a plan based on my expectations. I know Engine Company 11 has been dispatched from the Reservoir Avenue Fire Station and will arrive within a few minutes with three firefighters on board. I’ll need two trained people to continue CPR, one to drive the rescue, my partner to monitor the heart, administer oxygen and start IVs. That leaves me to administer medications, defibrillate, document and contact medical control. Nobody is idle during an emergency. Often we have nobody left to drive the fire engine. We do the best we can and make due with what we have.
What if the mayor closed Engine 11 for the night rather than pay overtime? What if two firefighters showed up five minutes later than planned? What chance, if any, the patient had for survival would be tossed aside because of irresponsible budgeting? Is this the best our society can do?
The basic distrust is that the people setting manning levels stand to gain financially from overtime. (Whether that is really a factor is a debate into which we needn’t slip.) The basic challenge is that schedules will always hover somewhere between full-time equivalent positions.
To square this circle, although I hate to create any additional departments at the state level, what if Rhode Island were to establish (or adjust rules and regulations in whatever way necessary to enable municipalities to establish) a statewide or regional fire authority that would take care of some of the organizational and back-office work entailed in sharing full-time firefighers/rescuers from town to town? The fire authority could bring an outside perspective to disputes about the number of team members necessary at any given time, and more importantly, it could organize a mixed volunteer and professional force that would split time with different departments.
I’m not suggesting a union-hall type setting to which such employees would show up to grab their daily assignments. Rather, their schedules would typically be nearly as regular as firefighters’ currently are.
That way, each town or city could remain fully staffed without requiring a significant number of work hours to be paid at time-and-a-half. There would also be a new route toward securing full-time jobs or volunteering. (Details about pay, benefits, and pensions would have to be worked out of course.)
Just a thought.