East Fork Fire Protection District Board approves additional staff
September 12, 2018
The East Fork Fire Protection District Board of Directors has officially approved additional firefighter/medic positions effective with the start of an Oct. 1 Regional Fire Academy.
Although the academy is designed to train firefighters from around the Northern Nevada region, the majority of academy recruits will likely hail from the East Fork Fire Protection District. East Fork has been facing an unprecedented challenge of staff vacancies due to retirements, employee resignations, and academy failures. Combine that with five long term injury vacancies, the district has been short staffed by nine vacancies for several months. Most recently two long-time employees with the district have since retired. The result has been hard primarily on those employees who are working at the firefighter rank, many of them being placed in a situation where by they are "forced" into vacant positions to meet the contract required daily staffing of 19 personnel throughout the 675 square miles of service area. In some cases, employees are having to work five to seven days in a row. The administration and labor association are working together to consider several options to address the short term. The impact on the employee is also transmitted onto the employee's family.
The district has submitted a $1.8 million grant application to the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Program. The SAFER Grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help them increase the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance a local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association Standard 1710. $345 million dollars are available. The grants are highly sought after and are very competitive. It is estimated that 300 grant awards will be made nationally. While still hopeful, time and award dollars are being drawn down by successful grant applicants making the district's chances for an award remote. $345,000,000 was allocated nationally.
With or without grant assistance, the board approved a proposal from its administration to hire an additional three positions on top of three new positions approved in the current budget. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the district can only fill positions with individuals who attend and complete the Nevada/California Regional Fire Academy, held in Carson City two times a year, which in turn leaves very few options for the district in between academy offerings. Volunteer support over the years has dwindled down to a number below 50 personnel. Area demographics, training, time commitments for volunteers, and an increase in calls have forced the district to modify its volunteer program, focusing volunteer participation toward logistical support and wildland fire response. Clearly one of the biggest threats for all regional agencies along the Sierra Front. The district has seen some positive success over the past year with this change to their volunteer program and continues to rely on volunteers to operate and respond water tenders to many areas of the district without fire hydrants.
With the board's approval, the district will be able to add six new positions in October at a minimum and replace the current five vacancies. Three of those positions are slated to fill "suitcase" positions. A "suitcase" position is one which can fill a staffing vacancy on a daily basis without the district having to pay overtime to fill the vacancy. If the district is awarded a SAFER Grant, they will also be able to hire two additional positions. Those positions would staff a 40-hour rescue ambulance during data derived peak response periods and would be an intermediate step towards staffing that unit on a 24-hour basis.
The board also granted the approval to increase the number of academy over-hires to three. Over hire employees are those who are funded during the academy and available to fill potential academy failures, resignations, and future openings between scheduled academies. District Chief Tod Carlini stated that with the recent district board action, they will be hiring 11 full-time firefighting employees in October and three other positions as over-hires. "While we can't guarantee that we won't be in a similar situation with vacancies in the future, we want to do what we can and what we can sustain financially to ensure against that possibility. What the board has approved will go a long way toward that objective."
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The district completed a full two-week recruit testing period. Over 130 individuals applied for positions with the district. The administration has extended offers to 11 individuals and to three individuals who will fill over hire positions. The Regional Fire Academy will start Oct. 1 and will conclude in late December. Personnel will not be available to work on shift until Jan. 7.
The district did modify its deployment model several years ago and is now staffing each engine with a paramedic. The district increased its Advanced Life Support units from four to seven under this deployment model. Data proves that having a firefighter/paramedic at the patient's side saves lives, regardless if they arrive on an Engine or in an ambulance. The first arriving crews, which always include a paramedic certified position, can treat the patient and have the patient ready for transport when the ambulance arrives. The East Fork Fire Protection District's Standard of Cover is available on the District's website at eastforkfire.org. for those who want more information about deployment and operational objectives.
While the six additional positions will certainly help, Carlini noted the district still needs to increase its staffing to address two of the bigger challenges, that being the district's geography and future growth.