Capital City Fire/Rescue cleans up after fighting a fire at 526 Seward Street, next to the Terry Miller Legislative Building, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Capital City Fire/Rescue cleans up after fighting a fire at 526 Seward Street, next to the Terry Miller Legislative Building, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

City taking time to examine CCFR staffing changes

Assembly members open to more feedback, discussion about funding for new positions

In examining how to give money to Capital City Fire/Rescue, members of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly are looking to gather more feedback and further examine their options.

After a July 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Assembly had an ordinance written up to set aside money to fund four new positions for the fire department. At Monday’s meeting, the Assembly members agreed that they should take a step back before fast-tracking that ordinance.

The ordinance on the table was to commit $350,000 for staffing four new employees who would operate on 12-hour shifts. This came after a recommendation from Missouri-based research firm Fitch and Associates, which did a months-long study of CCFR.

The Assembly members voted to have a more robust discussion about the ordinance at their Aug. 8 Finance Committee meeting, and likely a Committee of the Whole meeting later that month as well before bringing it to the Assembly for final approval.

CCFR Chief Rich Etheridge and Assistant Chief Chad Cameron were in attendance at Monday’s meeting, and understood why the city officials want to take their time. Etheridge pointed out that because this money is for staffing, the city would have to pay those salaries each year.

“They want to be confident in their decision, because it is a large amount of money and it’s a recurring expense,” Etheridge said. “It’s not just a one-time (expense). Three hundred and fifty thousand, that’s easy to find, but it’s money every year and it keeps going each year.”

Previously, fire chiefs have said they hope they can get employees for 24-hour shifts.

“Ultimately, that’s the fix we need,” Etheridge said Monday.

City Manager Rorie Watt said that since city staff wrote up the ordinance about funding the 12-hour positions, he has received quite a bit of feedback from the department. He also said the Assembly members need to think about how much they should be involved in making this decision versus how much those at the department should be involved in making this decision.

Watt acknowledged that the city has already reacted too slowly to the fact that CCFR gets more calls for help now that it has in past years, but he said he’d rather take a few more weeks to examine all the options.

“I think it’s important that we make the right decision for the right reasons and give it time rather than force a hasty decision,” Watt said. “I say that knowing that I’d like to get more resources to the department sooner. I would not like to delay help.”

Etheridge agreed.

“We’re happy that it’s being discussed,” Etheridge said. “We’d like the positions as quickly as possible.”

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, the Assembly didn’t go forward with a resolution that would have reached tentative terms with the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The tentative terms of the contract included a 2 percent increase in general wages, more bonuses for those who stay with the department and an adjustment to captain’s wages.

Etheridge said the stalling of this agreement is because the IAFF hasn’t agreed to the terms yet. The news was fairly new to him, he said in an interview following Monday’s meeting.

“The union hasn’t approved it to go forward yet,” Etheridge said. “Until the union approves it, the city and administration can’t commit to it. We just got a notice that they didn’t approve it, so we’re waiting to see what their objection is about it.”

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

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