Overtime for Anchorage Fire Department firefighters to be reduced starting next month
The plan hopes to save between $70,000-$125,000 this year
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A new plan to reduce the overtime hours of firefighters with the Anchorage Fire Department is set to go in effect next month. Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration says it could save between $70,000 to $125,000 in costs this year.
The administration’s plan is to reduce overtime during overnight hours — from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. — by having certain positions not be filled with staff on overtime. Normal staffing will continue during daytime hours, when they say most emergencies occur, according to a release from the mayor’s office.
The positions that will not be filled during overnight hours will be chosen based on location, position type and looking at how often incidents occurred in the past, according to the release, which added that “no station will be unstaffed.”
What that means, Anchorage Fire Department Chief Doug Schrage said during a Thursday press conference, is that the department will keep at least one piece of equipment in every station “to provide an immediate response to all emergencies that might occur.”
Schrage said the department is “committed to high level emergency service delivery within our community,” adding that he is confident the department will be able to maintain emergency services despite the change in overtime procedures.
“There will be a piece of equipment staffed with personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week in every firehouse,” Schrage said in the press release. “We may close an engine and leave a truck in service at that station or vice-a-versa. We may take one of our ambulances out of service and leave the engine in service. We’ll maintain the capability to provide an immediate response to all areas in town.”
Schrage also said the new policy will not affect any Eagle River units due to the travel distance and its geographic location. According to Schrage, a “company” is considered the personnel on a fire engine, personnel on a firetruck or a rescue team. Ambulances and command staff, like battalion chiefs, will also be subject to closure.
“We may close down one or two companies per shift,” Schrage said.
Some Anchorage firefighters do not agree with the streamlining of funds and the implementation of a plan to reduce overtime, and have shared concern that this will negatively affect their department goal of a response time being four minutes or less.
“In the last couple of years, the Anchorage Fire Department has experienced record-breaking call volumes prior to this COVID pandemic,” Nick Glorioso, vice president of the IAFF Local 1264 Union, said. “This has added extremely high call volume in the last couple of months to an already very taxed system, a system that’s already at minimum staffing. We have been able to meet that challenge (and) the members of the Anchorage Fire Department have been able to stand up and meet that challenge. This policy will make it much more difficult for us to continue to meet that challenge.”
District 4 Anchorage Assembly members Felix Rivera and Meg Zaletel released a joint statement Thursday evening criticizing the Bronson’s plan to set the overtime reduction to take effect on Oct. 1.
“These rolling closures are very concerning with our healthcare capacity stressed to critical levels right now,” Zaletel said in the release. “We need to support our first responders now more than ever and ensure that the Municipality is fully staffed and ready for any public health and safety emergency that may arise.”
“The risk versus reward of these types of policies is extremely concerning,” Rivera said in the release. “Given the fact that our biggest hospital is rationing care, this gamble doesn’t make any sense. There must be a better way and I urge the administration to collaborate with the Assembly to keep our residents safe in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Schrage stressed during Thursday’s press conference that in implementing this plan, the fire department hopes to avoid rolling closures that the department has, up to now, instituted in later months of the year to help control overtime.
“Rolling closures are a system where fire companies or fire stations are closed on a rotating basis and it spreads the risk and the pain around to all parts of the community,” Schrage said. “We think that a more rational approach is to more surgically close companies based on our ability to maintain our current response time standards.”
There are currently no plans for discussions between the department management and the local union moving forward on this specific issue.
“I am pleased that no services will be diminished, or station closures will happen,” said Mayor Dave Bronson his office’s press release, though the release did not specify how they would ensure response times would not be impacted.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.
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