Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What is Prompting Early Police and Firefighter Resignations?

It's the News Media

At Tuesday's City Council luncheon, City Manager Greg Burris presented a power point presentation, regarding his proposed general fund budget recommendations, to the City Council.

A full recommended budget must be presented to the City Council by May 1, 2009.

During the course of discussion, City Manager Greg Burris suggested negative publicity in "the newspaper" is driving earlier retirement resignations, among those eligible for retirement, in the police and fire departments.

"With all the negative media attention that the police/fire pension fund has been receiving," Burris said, "it's promoting that exodus because of all the uncertainty and the negativity within the community."

According to Mayor Jim O'Neal, Burris and he met with police officers and firefighters before the Council luncheon today.

Fire Chief Barry Rowell expanded on those sentiments at the luncheon meeting, after an introduction by Burris.

"The uncertainty over the future of the pension plan and the ongoing negative publicity has led to more resignations than we expected among those who have reached eligibility and are opting not to continue until their maximum age to retire," Rowell said.

O'Neal advised police and firefighters who were reaching retirement age not to be motivated out of misinformation or fear "coming from an unreliable source."

"I'd think twice about getting my advice from a newspaper editorial," O'Neal said.

The Mayor also said the police and firefighters should not be fearful that their retirement benefits are going to be cut.

Understaffing of Fire Department Addressed; Police Academy to be Reopened

The City Council were in consensus about allowing the City Manager to move forward with reopening the police training academy to train 10 officers and allowing for compensation of an additional 5 firefighters salaries in the upcoming fiscal budget.

The Police Department is currently 34 officers, or 10.4 percent, below budgeted strength and the Fire Department is expected to be 20 firefighters, or 9.4 percent, below budgeted strength by June 30.

Even with the addition of 5 firefighters to the Fire Department the City Manager is recommending the immediate start of a shut-down of one rotating fire unit.

The news release from Public Information Officer Louise Whall explained the changes this afternoon:

"The number of Springfield Fire Department vacancies expected this spring will require shutting down a unit on a rotating basis when staffing falls below certain levels effective April 27, 2009. For single-unit stations, this will mean shutting down that station for its 24-hour shift....

Burris said he plans to use additional savings from this year's budget to put about $150,000 in additional funding in the current fiscal year's Fire overtime budget. That funding is estimated to cover enough overtime to maintain at least a 48-person staffing level from mid May through June 30 in order to limit unit shutdowns to one at a time. A 48-person staffing level will require one unit to be taken out of service on a rotating basis among the City's 12 fire stations. Without the additional overtime funding, two or three units would need to be shut down on a consistent basis through June 30.

Four Fire Stations house two units, so one unit would remain in service. But when the rotation hits stations with only one unit, it will necessitate closing the station for that 24-hour shift. The Fire Department believes it is more equitable to all citizens to rotate the closure of one of the 16 units operating at all 12 stations during this period until June 30. This operational plan will be reviewed once the FY10 annual budget is approved.

When a unit shutdown requires a station closing, the information will be made public on the City's Web site, www.springfieldmo.gov, and signs will be posted at the stations with information to contact 911 or a non-emergency phone number. Each fire station has an emergency call phone located outside where walk-up visitors can call for emergency assistance.

Other procedures that will be followed when one unit is out of service and there is working fire include:

* The Department will reduce the number of vehicles sent initially to each type of call.

* The Department will not provide mutual aid to area departments.

* The Department will not respond to haz-mat or water-rescue calls outside of Springfield.

* If the Department has two working fires at once, it will limit the types of non-emergency calls it will respond to; respond only to EMS calls for cardiac or respiratory arrest; may make emergency personnel callbacks; and may request mutual-aid assistance from neighboring departments to cover in Springfield.

In addition to the operational plan, the Department is taking the following steps to address the staffing shortage:

* No overtime is being used to maintain minimum staffing levels for Haz Mat, Water Rescue or Technical Rescue. When incidents require these operations, the on-call Chief will determine emergency call-in or request mutual aid.

* Chief Officers will respond to calls during working hours and off hours to cover for Battalion Chiefs when on leave.

* All travel-related training is suspended so it does not contribute to decreased staffing levels."

The City's Web log, CityConnect, plans to make Burris' Power Point presentation available at their Web site later today.


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