Originally Published: September 25, 2018 9:26 p.m.
With support from its board of directors, the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) has accepted a federal grant to assist in the hiring of five new firefighters.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant will cover 75 percent of the cost for those additional personnel for the first two years and 35 percent of the cost for the final year. Overall, this amounts to about $750,000 of federal funding, leaving the authority to cover the remaining $400,000 in total cost for those first three years. After the first three years, the organization will bear the full cost of those employees moving forward.
“We ran those numbers and feel comfortable that we can absorb those costs,” said David Tharp, assistant chief of administration for CAFMA.
This move came in light of data showing a gradual increase in the number of service calls being made to CAFMA and a gradual decrease in the reliability rating for several fire stations.
“What we’re seeing is a significant increase in call volume specifically in the battalion 3 area, and more specifically in the area surrounding 89A, Glassford Hill Road and Highway 69 down to Fain Road,” said CAFMA Fire Chief Scott Frietag.
Reliability ratings are based on the percentages of calls stations are able to respond to within their immediate area. When a station can’t respond to a call because its personnel are already on a call or in training, then another station has to pick that call up. “This has a direct effect on response times,” said CAFMA Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bliss.
“We’re just short people right now,” Freitag said. “That’s the bottom line.”
In the immediate future, these additional personnel are expected to help increase reliability ratings by providing ample staffing to those busy stations and possibly even allow CAFMA to form an alternative response unit, Freitag said.
That alternative response unit will supposedly be able to use a small truck to respond to some of the milder incidents that don’t require a full fire engine’s presence.
Looking further ahead, those additional firefighters will eventually help staff any new fire stations needed to properly cover CAFMA’s 254-square-mile service territory.
“At some point, we’re going to have to put an additional fire station likely north,” Freitag said. “So we want to start thinking today: ‘How are we going to staff for that in the future?’”
In order to take full advantage of the available grant money, CAFMA will have to have the additional personnel hired by this coming January, Freitag said. They will then begin training in February and likely be in regular rotation by early April.
CAFMA board member Jeff Wasowicz asked senior fire staff on Monday, Sept. 24, how this hire-on will impact Central Yavapai Fire District’s tax rate.
Assistant Chief Scott Bliss, who manages much of the budget forecasting, said it’s difficult to say exactly how much the tax rate will go up in the coming years because of these staff additions.
“I’m reluctant to commit to a tax rate amount,” he said.
Reason being, the amount the agency is required to contribute to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System of the State of Arizona (PSPRS) has been a moving target every year.
“I put in a 5 percent increase into my look aheads (for PSPRS),” he said. “If it comes out less for PSPRS, then that will provide us some room to work with that. If it doesn’t, it won’t. So the tax rate part is difficult.”
For more on this story, visit dCourier.com.
OTHER BOARD NEWS
Neither the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) nor the Chino Valley Fire District (CVFD) will have to run general elections in November for their boards, saving both agencies thousands of dollars.
For both districts, the board positions that became available this year were filled without having to go to a vote.
In CYFD, incumbent Darlene Packard will serve another four-year term, and Dane Beck will be taking over the position currently held by Tom Steele, who has chosen not to run for re-election. Not having to organize a formal election process saves the district about $80,000 in election costs, said David Tharp, assistant chief of administration for CAFMA.
In CVFD, Cyndi Dicus and Dave Dobbs will retain their seats, with no one to oppose their re-elections. This saves the district about $25,000, Tharp said.