Maplewood city council approves changes for a more efficient fire department


file photo • Changes are in store for the Maplewood Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, which will begin transitioning from a primarily part-time workforce to an entirely full-time workforce. Part-time firefighters will only be employed until March 1, but are encouraged to apply for the department’s nine new full-time positions.

Part-time firefighters to be terminated in favor of more full-time positions.

Maplewood will begin transitioning its fire department from a model employing mostly part-time firefighters to a model employing entirely full-time firefighters, after a Jan. 25 city council decision. 

City staffers have also been directed by the council to begin planning community meetings to discuss with residents the possibility of closing the central-most fire station in the city and reallocating its resources to the northern-most fire station.

The Maplewood Fire Department currently staffs 18 full-time and 28 part-time firefighters out of three stations. South Fire Station is located at 600 McKnight Road N. Fire Station 2, otherwise referred to as the central station, is located at 1955 Clarence St., and North Fire Station sits at 1530 County Road C.

The model the city is now moving towards involves 27 full-time employees. Although the change will cost the city about $200,000 in the first year, the city expects this to be offset by reductions in overtime pay, training costs and other savings. In addition, the full-time model is expected to provide less complicated and more consistent scheduling.

All of the council members at the meeting — council member Kathleen Juenemann was absent — noted how difficult the decision was, but also said they think it is necessary in order to provide the best care they can for residents while being good stewards of taxpayer money.

“We need to make sure that we are spending our money wisely,” said Mayor Nora Slawik. “It doesn’t mean that the part-time firefighters aren’t important.”

 

Researching a more efficient model

The council’s Jan 25 decision to change the staffing model and consider utilizing one fewer station followed a presentation by Dr. Steven Knight on behalf of Fitch & Associates, a consulting firm that was hired by the city about a year ago to identify a reliable and sustainable staffing model for the fire and emergency medical services department.

The research by Fitch & Associates shows that only about 500 of the more than 5,000 incidents the fire department dealt with in 2016 were actually fire related, with the remaining calls — about 85 percent — being of a medical nature, reflecting a trend experienced by cities throughout the metro area. 

The Fitch & Associates research also revealed that during peak hours, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., there is consistently one ambulance out transporting people, leaving the two other stations to cover any other emergencies that may happen throughout the city.

When examining the locations within the city that firefighters from each station can reach in the standard eight minute or less response time, about 99 percent of the central station’s reach was redundant, overlapping territory firefighters at the North and South stations can cover. In addition, because of its location, firefighters at the central station are not positioned well to quickly travel to the furthest reaches of the city on the occasions when the ambulance at an outer station is already busy transporting a patient.

This combined information led to recommendations that Maplewood transition from a part-time employee group to a full-time employee group, reallocate resources from the central station to the North Station, near areas generating the greatest number of medical related calls, among other changes.

 

The difficult decision

Before the council’s vote, members from the Fire/EMS workgroup and International Association of Firefighters Local 4470 shared their support for the proposed changes. Public Safety Director Scott Nadeau, Fire Chief Steve Lukin and EMS Chief Michael Mondor also supported it.

Tracy Imm, president of the Maplewood Volunteer Firefighters Relief Association, was the only speaker at the meeting asking the council not to accept all of the recommendations. He spoke on behalf of the part-time firefighters who were informed Jan. 17 that they would be terminated at the end of February.

City Manager Melinda Coleman explained at the meeting that the part time firefighters are encouraged to apply for the nine new full-time positions that the city will be looking to fill, adding that they will even be given preference.

“Obviously, they’re familiar with our community, and we would love to see them apply for those positions. That would be ideal,” Coleman said.

When asked at the meeting to verify how much longer the part-time firefighters will be employed by the city, Coleman described the transition period as “a very difficult subject.”

“We had hoped to have a long transition period up to the end of this year,” she said. “We are not able to accommodate that because of some proposed legislation that does affect our financial situation, as well as the Fire League Association.”

She added that the city is open to continuing discussions with the part-time firefighters about possibly extending the transition time. No clear termination date was offered at the meeting, but the following day Coleman clarified in an interview that March 1 is the termination date listed in the city’s last proposal to the part-time firefighters, though negotiations were still underway. 

Community meetings to discuss the possibility of closing the central fire station on Clarence Street are expected to be scheduled during the spring or summer months.

 


– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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