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Sun, Aug. 25

Prescott to evaluate public safety staffing levels: Hotshots survivor joins fuels-management team

PRESCOTT - With the recent addition of Granite Mountain Hotshot Brendan McDonough to the city's fuels-management team, the program now consists of four workers.

In early August, the fire department announced that it had hired three new temporary workers to take up the brush-reduction work that had been done previously by the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, most of whom died June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire.

Later this month, McDonough - the lone survivor among the Hotshot crew - also began helping the fuels reduction crew, bringing the total to four.

That is a significant reduction from the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots who previously spent months each year creating defensible space in the Prescott area.

"It's a skeleton crew, and they're doing skeleton work," Prescott Fire Department Public Information Officer Wade Ward said of the crew's current status. "Hopefully, the city will give us the opportunity to hire more. It would be nice to have at least six."

But any additions to the crew may have to wait until after a comprehensive public-safety evaluation takes place at the city.

Prescott Communications and Public Affairs Manager Pete Wertheim said Thursday that the city is looking into contracting with the International City/County Management Association's Center for Public Safety Management to conduct a study on Prescott's public-safety expenditures and staffing.

Other components could include an operational analysis, succession planning, alternative service delivery options, future growth impacts, and optimization of station locations.

Such a study could take at least two months to complete, and could cost an estimated $75,000 - depending on the scope of work -Wertheim said. The Prescott City Council likely will discuss the issue at its Sept. 17 study session, he added.

"Obviously, there will be more details to come," Wertheim said. "We're going to try to get somebody from the association out to a study session."

Basically, Wertheim said, the city wants to determine whether it is spending its money in the best way. "With our limited resources, we need to be smart in where we invest," he said.

Meanwhile, the addition of any new fuels-management workers is still in the consideration process, Wertheim said.

Ward said the existing crew continues to work on collecting and chipping the brush that local property owners have cleared from their own property.

While the current crewmembers are qualified to cut brush, they are not qualified to act as supervisors, Ward said.

McDonough joined the effort recently, Ward said, although, "technically, I don't think he ever went off. Basically, he hasn't had any time off."

Although the fuels-management crew is officially McDonough's assignment, he also has been helping Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis to handle the deluge of Freedom of Information Act public records requests that have come in from media outlets around the country.

"He's also back in school at Yavapai College to get his EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification," Ward said of McDonough. "That is on his own time in the evenings."

Since the June 30 fire that killed 19 of its employees, Ward said the entire fire department has been trying to cope. "We're still trying to recover, rebuild," he said.

The bulk of the fuels-management work is covered by grants. The city's 2013 budget shows that the city expected to get a $453,722 Fire Department Vegetation Management grant, which provides staffing for "a 10-month, 13-member community wide vegetation management plan to prevent and suppress wildfires." The city is responsible to pay 50 percent, or $226,861, of the cost.

The budget also listed a $220,000 Arizona Wildland Hazardous Fuels project grant, which provides for mitigation of risk through reduction of fuels. The city is responsible for 10 percent, or $22,000, of the cost.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.

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