Fire department update

There have been several changes in the operations of the Dunkirk Fire Department over the last several years, and more may be coming, particularly when it comes to fire halls.

Chief Keith Ahlstrom provided updates on several issues concerning the department during a Tuesday morning meeting of the Common Council Public Safety Committee.

Ahlstrom provided current information on the status of ambulance billings, one of the changes Ahlstrom has overseen during his tenure. According to the chief, the 2013 numbers are down from last year’s. As of Monday, the department has had 375 billable calls in 2013 bringing in $78,478 as compared to 410 and $94,000 at this point in 2012. That drop has led to a revenue gap which is currently around $16,000, although Ahlstrom noted that figure is more likely around $10,000.

He added his guess is the 2013 final figure will be $10,000 to $15,000 lower than the 2012 total of $150,721.68, but still above the $120,000 in revenue budgeted for 2013.

“We’ve been running about $10,000 behind for three months. I’d say right now if I had to project where we’ll be at the end of the year I would guess between $10 and $15,000 off of what we received last year, which would still put us over what we budgeted for this year, but not by much,” he added.

Committee Chairwoman Stacy Szukala said at the start the plan was to keep the runs money in the department but that didn’t work in the 2013 budget.

“Are you going to be putting in that request, at least sit down with the mayor, that for 2014 that money stays in the department?” she asked.

“It would be my request,” Ahlstrom replied, adding some of the money would be going to needed fire hall repairs or renovations.

The list of companies the city might deal with has been cut from the 14 that responded to the city’s request for qualifications and subsequent tour of the buildings to five.

“We did send a letter to the five we’d like to continue with to give us now a financial estimates of the costs necessary to complete a study based on the following scenarios,” the chief explained. “Number one, renovation of each of the three buildings. Number two, combining into two buildings. We left the third option of a completely new facility out because we don’t need any time spent on somebody studying if one and two show that’s what we need to do.”

Ahlstrom added there are formulas based of square footage and area industry standards that would allow for a quick estimate on a new building if that is what’s needed. Sept.10 is the response date for the companies.

“In talking to the mayor, we will either make a recommendation to council on choosing a company or narrow it down to two, three, to bring in to interview and talk to. …. Shortly after that we should be ready to have ready a recommendation for council on what we’re doing,” he said. “We’ll also have an idea on what the cost of the study will be.”

One cost that is going up is department overtime. Ahlstrom provided the numbers behind the increase, including 302 sick days this year already as opposed to 242 in all 2012. He added three department members used 150 of the days due to illness and injury with two currently off until at least mid September.

“As of (Monday) we had 380 overtime days this year, last year we had 432 for a 12-month period of time,” Ahlstrom explained. “The last three months, June July and August, we’ve been over 70 overtime days in each of those months. Last year for those three months we were under 40 for each. … You have to go back to 2006 before you find a month we were over 50 a month.”

Ahlstrom said shifts are nine hours on days and 15 hours for the night shift. He added the firefighters have done what is needed to meet manpower requirements as called for in the union contract. With that contract expiring Dec. 31 there will be another issue on the table, upgrading training from basic to advanced lifesaving skills.

“There’s a lot of issues involved in that and that would be the proper place to start exploring between the union and the city,” Ahlstrom stated. “I would hope that we find a lot of common ground that both the city and union would agree that it’s something that we should look at in the future, and not as a revenue source but as a service to the community.”

Ahlstrom said he is gathering information on the issue.

After the meeting Szukala said the information was helpful.

“Until you find out why the overtime is happening there’s really not much you can do other than complain. It doesn’t make the overtime any better, but we understand why it is happening,” she stated. “When you have men that are out with injuries, surgeries and illness, it’s unavoidable overtime. We have to have five guys on a shift at all times and that’s the reason.

“I’m happy with knowing it’s not something that’s being overused. In this particular case there’s reasons why guys are out.”

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