Fire Dept. plan would save city $2.5M

CITY HALL — Glendale fire officials are proposing sweeping changes to the department in order to cut costs, including hiring 60 hourly emergency medical technicians to offset the 21 sworn firefighter positions that will be eliminated through attrition within the next two years.

The transition could eventually end up saving the city $2.5 million annually, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said, because the hourly workers wouldn’t require the benefits that their full-time counterparts get. The city’s rising pension obligations have been a driving factor behind the need to cut expenses or face crushing budget deficits.

As part of his proposed budget for 2011-12, Scoggins suggested moving 18 firefighter/paramedics onto the department’s nine engines, which would expand advanced life support coverage throughout the city.

Under the plan, the Fire Department would have to hire 60 emergency medical technicians to work 12-hour shifts to avoid incurring overtime costs.

The Fire Department has already phased out six firefighter paramedic positions. Those vacancies were replaced with the Basic Life Support program last year, staffed by emergency medical technicians, which saved the department about $700,000, Scoggins said. [This article has been corrected, see below for the details.]

The proposed plan, and its further reduction of the firefighting ranks, was met with some hesitation from Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who said he was “not comfortable hiring a new class of employees” and would rather contract with an outside emergency service agency.

But Councilman Frank Quintero said he would support hiring hourly employees if the proposed plan helped to maintain four firefighters on an engine.

“I just don’t feel comfortable going to a situation where we have less firefighters,” he said.

Scoggins also recommended slashing $426,499 from the proposed 2011-12 budget, including losing the arson investigator position for roughly $209,700 in savings.

“It’s not the things you see every day, but behind the scenes is where the work is going on,” he said.

The arson investigator examines blazes and performs the department’s background investigations on employees — duties that would be split among six less-trained fire investigators. If a blaze is suspected to be arson, fire investigators would notify police for further scrutiny.

“On the big picture of things, it’s more important that we keep firefighters on the fire engines,” Scoggins said.

He also recommended eliminating the public information officer position, which is held by a fire captain. The position also serves as the city’s Emergency Operations Center coordinator.

The public education coordinator position — which also handles school outreach and the Community Emergency Response Team program — would be eliminated.

If the position were cut, several programs would also be eliminated, Scoggins said.

Many of the duties performed by the public information and education coordinators could be consolidated into a civilian position, if the City Council wanted to preserve the programs, he added.

“It would be very difficult to do, but it would help to continue our message to the community,” he said. “It’s better than having no message in the community.”

FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version to make clear that the department has already phased out six firefighter paramedic positions.

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