Members of the Capital City Fire and Rescue squad watch on during a presentation about staffing for the department at the Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday. (Gregory Philson | Juneau Empire)

Members of the Capital City Fire and Rescue squad watch on during a presentation about staffing for the department at the Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday. (Gregory Philson | Juneau Empire)

Fire department may receive additional staff members

City approves motion to draft ordinance for additional fire department employees; CCFR officials hope outside firm’s recommendations serve as starting point

The city’s fire department is short on staff and may get the help it needs.

The City and Borough of Juneau Committee of the Whole moved forward a motion via a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Ken Koelsch casting the lone dissenting vote, to draft an ordinance that could detail adding anywhere between four to six staff members on the Capital City and Fire Rescue crew during its meeting Wednesday at Assembly Chambers. CCFR Fire Chief Rich Etheridge said this is the first step in the right direction.

“We really appreciate the support of the Assembly,” Etheridge said after the meeting Wednesday. “We do need staffing. Obviously, the more staffing for the department, the better.”

The result of this approval followed a presentation given by Etheridge and Fitch and Associates members, partner Steve Knight and senior consultant BJ Jungmann. Fitch and Associates are a public safety consulting firm and were brought in to conduct a staffing and operations audit on CCFR.

The group made six recommendations during the discussion but said they believe addressing staffing needs was key to getting going on the right first step. Etheridge said making this initial motion to move the addition forward will help the department if it is eventually approved by the CBJ Assembly. In the presentation, the number of calls from 2010 to 2017 increase from 3,486 to 5,077. The majority of those calls, nearly 76 percent, are for emergency medical services, while 18 percent are for fire-related incidents.

Etheridge said adding staff will help alleviate the workload for current staff members.

“The number of calls is increasing and the number of calls happening at the same time is increasing,” Etheridge said. “We have run out of resources regularly and we have to rely on the police department.”

Assembly member Beth Weldon, who proposed an amendment that would add an additional six 24/7 staff members, said the decision made Wednesday is a just a minor move forward.

“I think there is no doubt that the fire department needs more personnel,” Weldon said. “This is a baby step. I wanted six 24/7, but the way miss (Maria) Gladziszewski modified her motion we will be looking at four 12-hours and two 24/7. Hopefully, we will be able to sway the rest with getting six 24/7 personnel to give these guys some relief.”

Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said in an interview Wednesday that the city spent about $50,000 to commission the study, which was taken from the city’s budget for CCFR. She said the city signed the contract with Fitch and Associates on Oct. 31, 2017. According to the city budget on the CBJ website, CCFR’s total budget for the year was $8,468,900.

At a meeting earlier in the day between the representatives from Fitch and Associates and CCFR chiefs and employees, CCFR employees expressed hope for more 24-hour staff members instead of 12-hour staff members. In an interview after that meeting, Etheridge said he was a little surprised at the recommendation for 12-hour staff members.

“Their goal is to do the most good with the least cost tied to it,” Etheridge said, “whereas our focus is, we have to consider cost but we want to be able to do the most good.”

He, Assistant Chief Chad Cameron and IAFF 4303 President Travis Wolfe all said the Fitch and Associates recommendations are more of a starting point than a final solution. Cameron said he wants the department to be able to take some time to look over the recommendations and adapt them to work best in Juneau.

Cameron said the recommendations have merit, but when an outside firm tries to apply industry standards to Juneau, it’s tough to do that because CCFR is quite different from most.

“That’s one of the challenges here in Juneau,” Cameron said. “There’s not a lot to compare to. There aren’t a lot of departments who are similar to us. Most other departments, when you talk to fire departments, they can call for help, where we can’t. We do everything because we’re the only game in town.”

Koelsch explained why he voted against the motion.

“I don’t know exactly what we are getting as far as personnel, that was not specified,” Koelsch said. “Are we getting EMTs, firefighters, a combination of both? We just got the information tonight and discussed it tonight. We normally go through the Finance Committee. We have a lot of other things that we could be adding to it. I have no problem supporting between four and nine (additional staff members) if that is what they tell us that is what they need. But, I do have a problem in getting things pushed a little too quickly.”

City Manager Rorie Watt explained moving forward with the motion will give city staff time to introduce an ordinance with more information for the July 23 regular Assembly meeting. The goal is to have a public hearing set for Aug. 13. Watt added that making the approval for the ordinance to be drafted also gives the fire department more time to recruit.

Cosgrove did not have exact numbers available on how much six additional staff members would cost but estimated it could be between $400-500 thousand.

During the daytime meeting with fire department members, firefighters and chiefs asked questions for about an hour and a half to Knight and Jungmann about how they did their study and why they made the recommendations they made. One of the recommendations that resulted in questioning was one to add a new shift commander.

This commander, Knight and Jungmann said, would be both a field commander and a paramedic. Cameron, in particular, was critical of the suggestion because overseeing a scene and tending to urgent medical needs are two vastly different roles, he said. He asked Knight and Jungmann to name another department that has positions like that, and they weren’t able to do so.

The department certainly needs help with handling its call volume, Cameron said, and he said he wasn’t sure if making all of these recommended changes are the right path forward.

“I’m completely for looking at the department and making changes, absolutely,” Cameron said, “but we’ve got to make sure it works and we’re not passing a problem on to another day. We need to solve the problem.”


• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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


More in Home

Neil Steininger, former director of the state Office of Management and Budget, testifies before the House Finance Committee at the Alaska State Capitol in January of 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Neil Steininger, former budget director for Gov. Dunleavy, seeking District 1 Juneau Assembly seat

Downtown resident unopposed so far for open seat; deadline to file for local races is Monday.

Buttons on display at a campaign event Monday, July 8, 2024, in Juneau, urge supporters to vote against Ballot Measure 2, the repeal of Alaska’s current election system. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Ranked-choice repeal measure awaits signature count after Alaska judge’s ruling

Signatures must be recounted after judge disqualifies almost 3,000 names, citing state law violations.

The offices of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Juneau are seen on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska demographers predict population drop, a switch from prior forecasts

For decades, state officials have forecast major population rises, but those haven’t come to pass.

A mother bear and a cub try to get into a trash can on a downtown street on July 2, 2024. Two male bears were euthanized in a different part of downtown Juneau on Wednesday because they were acting aggressively near garbage cans, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Two black bears in downtown Juneau euthanized due to aggressive behavior around people

Exposed garbage, people insistent on approaching bears contribute to situation, official says

Cars arrive at Juneau International Airport on Thursday, July 11, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau seems to have avoided major disruptions following global technology-related outage

911 centers, hospitals, airport, and public safety and emergency management agencies are operating.

People take photos of local dignitaries during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Teal Street Center on Thursday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Teal Street Center celebrates with ribbon-cutting a year after social agencies begin providing services

Nine organizations providing legal, disability, counseling and other help open under one roof.

A memorial started on Front Street in downtown Juneau for 35-year-old Juneau resident Steven Kissack, who was experiencing homelessness, grows on Thursday with food donations and suicide hotline information. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
As the death investigation of Steven Kissack begins, special prosecution office explains its process

Reviews can be lengthy, information limited to ensure due process, Department of Law leaders say

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board chairman Ethan Schutt is seen during a special board meeting on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Juneau. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Dunleavy reappoints Permanent Fund Corp. board chair Schutt after weeks of uncertainty

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has reappointed Ethan Schutt to a public seat on… Continue reading

Most Read