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Proposed addition of a paid firefighter/EMT II position
By Kevin C. Murphy


January 13, 2007
Saturday PM

I have been following the recent discussions regarding the proposed addition of a paid firefighter/EMT II position for Ketchikan's North Tongass Fire Department (NTFD). As a person who spent the majority of his adult life (thus far) in the fire service, I would like to offer comment on what may become a contentious issue.

I would first like to commend and thank all of the people who have helped establish the NTFD as a functional provider of emergency services. It should be kept in mind that as an organization, the NTFD is still developing, but as a service provider it is expected to perform at a very high level of service.

After the residents of North Tongass voted to form a fire and EMS service district, a few (very few) interested individuals came together to form the nucleus of an organization that has since grown just a bit in numbers, but has nonetheless evolved into a well trained and dedicated group. The overwhelming majority of that group is classified as volunteers. There are currently only two full-time, paid positions.

There have been many growing pains for this fledgling organization. During their first year of existence, a tremendous amount of money and energy was expended without the benefit of a sound strategic plan. To my recollection there was never an adequate needs analysis undertaken to determine what level of fire protection and emergency medical service the residents of North Tongass desired. And understand this: Different levels of service have different associated costs. The lack of good strategic planning has hugely increased the cost of establishing and operating the department.

Regardless of inadequate planning and fiscal mistakes, there is now a functional emergency service department that is capable of responding to the needs of residents and visitors of the North Tongass Service Area. The members of NTFD have earned, and deserve to be shown, respect and support for their efforts.

I have considerable respect for Ed Fry as an emergency services provider. Mr. Fry's experience, education, and dedication to the industry are to be commended. I agree with the majority of his views published in this forum, especially those that encourage people to make INFORMED decisions. Based on my experience, his interpretation of the ISO rating system is dead on. Adding one paid firefighter to the staff may not directly improve the ISO rating for the area. But the work that the firefighter accomplishes throughout the year might improve the chances of a beneficial rating. The extra position may mean that tasks like annual fire hose testing, annual ladder testing, required equipment maintenance, and training are accomplished. These are all factors in the ISO rating system. To base the decision of whether to hire an additional firefighter solely on the possibility of an improved ISO rating would be a mistake, in my opinion. ISO is a service that not all insurance companies subscribe to. Property owners in the area should ask their insurance carriers a couple of key questions. #1 Does the company utilize the ISO rating system to determine rates for the policy held? #2 If the ISO rating system is used, what net savings would the policy holder gain by an improvement in ISO rating of 1 point, or 2 points? I think most people would find that the savings are fairly small for residential policy holders. Commercial property owners may see a more significant savings. Ask the questions, get it in writing, and get informed.

Property owners need to ask the administration of the NTFD to provide hard numbers and justification for the proposed increase in taxes. I m sure they have a reason, let them state it, let them provide documentation that justifies the request for additional personnel. Ask what method the department will use to evaluate the effectiveness and benefit of the additional position. If there isn t an improved level of service provided, or significant savings in insurance rates, will the position be eliminated? How will those benchmarks be measured? Make informed choices.

In closing, I would like to offer some thoughts regarding the support that the NTFD deserves. This organization exists to serve the needs of the people that pay for the service. That is the cold hard fact. Most people that make that 911 call for assistance don't have any idea how much money, time, and effort is required to provide the equipment and personnel that show up when Mrs. Smith is having a bad day. All they care about is that someone comes when they call, as fast as possible, and can solve whatever problem they're having. Oh yeah, and they really don't want to pay too much to have that service available 24/7/365!

Two paid positions cannot provide the desired level of service. Three paid positions cannot provide the desired level of service. To achieve a reasonable level of service to the North Tongass area, it takes the hard work and dedication of many people. Without the men and women who have stepped forward to participate as volunteers and paid staff, there would be no NTFD. It doesn't matter how many shiny red fire trucks or ambulances are parked in the barn, without people to maintain them and operate them, they're of no use to anyone. These people give their valuable time to be of service to their neighbors, they deserve your support. Ask how you can support this organization. Do you want to volunteer 5, 10, or 20 hours a week to attend training, work on the fire stations or equipment? Do you want to be rousted out of your nice warm bed at 0-dark-thirty on a rainy night to help a stranger that is having the worst day of their life? Or would you prefer to show your support by quietly providing a few more dollars in the form of a tax increase. Dollars that will allow those neighbors that are willing to give of themselves, the tools and means to provide that important service nobody wants to pay for, until they have to make that 911 call.

Happy New Year!

Kevin C. Murphy
New Braunfels, TX

Received January 11, 2007 - Published January 13, 2007

About: "Over 25 years in the fire service as a volunteer and a paid firefighter in Ketchikan."



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