Wayne's Words: Fire Department Staffing Study

Wayne Horne | 6/8/2016, 9:08 p.m.
When is the last time you gave any thought to the Emergency Medical Services, EMS for short, provided by the ...

When is the last time you gave any thought to the Emergency Medical Services, EMS for short, provided by the City of Joliet to all of its residents? Most likely you look at EMS as part of the fire department. Often times when you see a fire department ambulance you also see a fire truck. You probably don’t give much thought to the fact that EMS and firefighting are two separate services provided by the Joliet Fire Department.

According to various reports the number of fires relative to population growth have been declining over the last 30-35 years. In that same period the need and desire for EMS has grown to account for more than 70 percent of fire department response calls in most municipalities. Less than five percent of fire department calls are actually for fires in most municipalities.

The Joliet City Council approved a resolution this week that authorizes the “Execution of a Professional Services Agreement for a Fire Department Staffing Study/Standard of Cover.” According to Council Memo #270-16 the City of Joliet wants to determine whether “there are alternative ways” to provide needed services for the citizens of Joliet. The number of firefighters and their deployment model will be examined in the study.

The Joliet Fire Department is the only city service to have maintained its staffing level at close to 100 percent since 2008 even as financial resources have been tightly squeezed. The Fire Department currently maintains a staffing level of 202 personnel.

There are six models for EMS delivery in the U.S. but about half are based in the fire department as is the one Joliet uses. All Joliet firefighters are required to be Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMT’s, in addition to their fire suppression responsibilities.

According to the Council memo, the last time the Joliet Fire Department had an outside evaluation was in 1989. The EMS responsibilities over that 27-year period has seemingly replaced the primary role of the fire department. The EMS, in particular ambulance service, has become a very costly service and in many cases utilized for what is recognized as “unscheduled” medical care and transport to hospitals.

Reimbursement rates for ambulance transport of Medicare and Medicaid patients usually do not cover the actual cost of the service in most municipalities around the country. That leaves the “balance bill’ the responsibility of the municipality.

One of the challenges that currently face municipalities like Joliet is the high level of service available each time an ambulance is dispatched to a location. The ambulance itself is equipped to provide the highest level of service available. Therefore, each piece of equipment is capable of meeting any medical emergency, large or small. This can cause inefficiencies and large costs to the EMS agency.

The proposed timeline for the Joliet study is between seven and nine months at a cost of $43,950.

One last thing… also approved at Tuesday’s Council meeting was the re-lamp project at Silver Cross Field. Part of the responsibility of a landlord, the City of Joliet in this case, is to maintain the structure and its components in good working order. The cost to replace the lamps at the ballpark was estimated at $20,000 but the low bid came in at $36,675. The higher than estimated cost may not be news, but when the government owns the property the cost to construct it and maintain it always seems to exceed the estimate.

To put this expense in a proper perspective, consider the fact that the $36,675 expense for the lamps is more than half the rent the City normally receives from the Slammers baseball organization in one year. Silver Cross Field is 14 years old and has required several million dollars in maintenance costs and improvements over that period of time. That doesn’t count the $28 million taxpayers expended to build it. I guess that’s the cost we must bear for the “quality of life” structure we were told was needed when Silver Cross Field was constructed. Remember the movie “The Money Pit?” Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne at wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com