Members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4303 attend Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, Assembly meeting to speak to Assembly members about their concern in the number of career firefighters working in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4303 attend Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, Assembly meeting to speak to Assembly members about their concern in the number of career firefighters working in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Firefighters’ union urges Assembly to take more serious staffing action

Wednesday meeting looks into CCFR staffing, cemetery costs, recycling program

As city officials consider ways to help Capital City Fire/Rescue responders with rising call volumes, members of the local firefighters’ union say one solution on the table “doesn’t even come close” to doing enough to help.

The city commissioned Missouri 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 Saturday, International Association of Firefighters Local 4303 President Travis Wolfe said a 12-hour ambulance crew won’t be enough.

“The Assembly should consider providing appropriate funding to the department so we can better protect our citizens with an additional 24-hour ambulance,” Wolfe said in the release. “Adding staffing has been a priority for the IAFF and this first step is the most important. We need to plan for the future and a 12-hour ambulance doesn’t even come close.”

Fire department calls have increased by 30 percent since 2015, according to the release, and 20 percent of all emergencies occur when ambulances are unavailable due to simultaneous calls. Having an additional ambulance staffed for 24 hours, according to the release, could help increase availability and reduce response times.

Staffing four 12-hour employees, the city determined, would cost around $350,000. The Assembly hasn’t publicly discussed how much it would cost to staff a 24-hour ambulance crew.

This Wednesday, the Assembly Finance Committee will convene to take a deeper look into how best to allocate money to help the department. That meeting is open to the public and will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Assembly Chambers at City Hall.

At a July 23 Assembly meeting, Assembly members agreed to listen to more feedback from the department about possible changes.

At that meeting, City Manager Rorie Watt said it was important that Assembly members listen to feedback from the department, but said he’d like to see this staffing question answered sooner rather than later.

“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 at the meeting. “I say that knowing that I’d like to get more resources to the department sooner. I would not like to delay help.”

The agenda for Wednesday’s meeting has not been officially set, but the tentative agenda includes discussions about funding for the city’s RecycleWorks program and the consideration of the city taking over maintenance of all the city’s cemeteries in addition to talking about CCFR recommendations. The meeting will also delve into the future of the Archipelago Lot, located next to the downtown parking garage.

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

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