Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge (left) and Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove look over a spreadsheet that lays out staffing costs for the fire department at a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge (left) and Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove look over a spreadsheet that lays out staffing costs for the fire department at a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

City open to spending more in staffing fire department

CCFR, city hall staff will meet about specific costs for adding new ambulance crew

Capital City Fire/Rescue might get more money for staffing increases than previously thought. That staffing will only be guaranteed through next year, though.

At Wednesday’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee meeting, committee members agreed to consider staffing an ambulance for 24 hours per day instead of 12. The committee members agreed that this increase would be funded through the end of the current fiscal year, which ends at the end of June 2019.

City staff will do research and write an ordinance for this coming Monday’s Assembly meeting with the estimated cost of funding these new employees. If the Assembly approves the ordinance Monday, the Assembly members will work out a long-term funding plan for the future during the regular budget cycle next spring.

During Wednesday’s meeting, committee members were presented with varying cost estimates. Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said her staff’s calculations were that staffing six entry-level employees to work 24-hour shifts for the remainder of the fiscal year would cost about $380,000. CCFR Chief Rich Etheridge said his staff’s estimation could be as much as $480,000.

After the meeting, Etheridge said his numbers were for a full fiscal year. The city’s fiscal year has already started, Cosgrove pointed out, so her calculations were for employees working about three quarters of a fiscal year. Etheridge also said the estimates varied because it’s unclear if the city will budget for CCFR to hire entry-level or higher-level employees.

Etheridge said his staff and Cosgrove’s staff have been exchanging information and will continue to do so ahead of Monday’s Assembly meeting.

“We’ll go meet with the manager’s office and sit down and show them our numbers and have them vet them out, go through them and make sure they agree with them,” he said.

Going into Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting, the main option on the table for the committee members was to fund four 12-hour ambulance employees at a cost of $350,000.

The city commissioned research firm Fitch and Associates to delve deeply into CCFR’s challenges and come up with solutions as the understaffed fire department works to keep up with an increased workload. One of the recommendations, as presented at a July 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, was to staff four new employees who would operate on 12-hour shifts.

In a press release this past Saturday, the International Association of Firefighters Local 4303 union expressed that CCFR needs more than just 12-hour employees. They need around-the-clock help, they said.

[Firefighters’ union urges Assembly to take more serious staffing action]

Members of the union were present at Wednesday’s meeting. Etheridge has expressed gratitude for the Assembly for trying to help the department, and continued his positivity Wednesday.

“We’re happy we’ve got the support at the Assembly level and the union’s been good to work with and we have a lot of community support,” Etheridge said. “We definitely want to make sure we’re doing this for the benefit of the community and making sure they get the services they expect.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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