Fire chief’s plan under fire

Ricci storms out of meeting after decision delayed.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 11, 2013
Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci stormed out of Monday’s city meeting after commissioners refused to make a decision on fire department finances.

Ricci pleaded with commissioners to shift $1 million from an equipment and vehicle account to payroll purposes, a move thatwould preserve six fulltime firefighter positions in 2014 and 2015. A federal grant covering these salaries expired a few days ago.

There could be consequences if the city’s fulltime fire staffing levels drop from 53 to 47, according to Ricci.

A smaller staff would mean: q Increasing response times for crews headed to fires and other emergencies. On average, it could jump from 2 minutes to 4 minutes.

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road by Toft Dairy and Fire Station No. 3 near Cedar Point.

• Giving priority to certain emergencies rather than responding to calls on a first-come, first-served basis.

Commissioners effectively delayed Ricci’s proposal until January, which lets a newly elected set of commissioners decide the issue.

The inaction at Monday’s meeting frustrated Ricci and about 10 other firefighters who attended.

“These are tough times. These are extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Sandusky fire Capt. Dave Degnan said. “This is a one-time deal, and you can hang me on a cross if they do it again”

Commissioners and city officials knew about a year ago they’d be facing this problem, and yet they still did nothing, Ricci said.

“I am wasting my time,” Ricci said just before he stormed out of the commission chambers.

Ricci couldn’t understand why money from one fire account — coined EMS, for vehicle and equipment purchases — couldn’t be swapped into the fire payroll account.

The EMS account, fueled by ambulance billing, today shows a balance of about $1.8 million. Even after paying out six salaries and accounting for other expenses, the EMS funds should still total about $900,000 in 2015.

“You have to do the right thing, and that’s spending down the fund and reallocating the money,” Ricci said. “This is about serving the city and community and not letting six firefighters wonder if they are going to have a job next year because we can’t make a decision in this room”

Commissioners voted 4-2 against Ricci’s proposal, with Diedre Cole, John Hamilton, Wes Poole and Jeff Smith opposing and Pervis Brown and Julie Farrar in favor. Commissioner Keith Grohe didn’t attend the meeting.

Budget estimates show Sandusky, by early next year, projecting a $1 million deficit in its $16 million 2014 budget. There’s no room in the fire department’s $5.2 million 2014 budget to fund these positions.

Several unappealing options exist to offset the looming deficit by March, including raising taxes, laying off workers or spending down the city’s $4 million surplus.

The fire department accounts for about half the projected deficit. Another $500,000 shortfall derives from cuts in local government funds and the elimination of estate taxes city officials previously collected.

Where commissioners stand on Ricci’s plan
Commissioners and others offered views on Ricci’s proposal at Monday’s meeting. Here’s what some had to say:

“I believe that the existing commission (would do) a disservice to our community by acting on this. We’re already starting the budget process with one hand tied behind our backs. We’ll end up with both hands behind our back.”  — Dick Brady, commissioner-elect

“We have the funds that is already allocated to the fire department. It’s just a line item change. To me, the equipment doesn’t save lives. Men save lives. “I’m not going to substitute equipment for manpower.” — Pervis Brown, commissioner

“This presentation is wasted on this commission. The new commission has the authority to undo whatever we do. We knew it was coming, and we did absolutely nothing to prepare for it. We relied on Chief Ricci to come up with a Plan B, and now we are not happy with Plan B.” — Diedre Cole, commissioner

“I don’t think a big company like Cedar Point would want Fire Station No. 3 to close if they had a big fire.” — Julie Farrar, commissioner

“It’s horrible that the city is looking at significant layoffs, but we are going to have to spread that obligation and that burden around. It is unreasonable to think your department should be immunized from the cuts that (could) be made.” — Dennis Murray Jr. commissioner-elect

“I do think it was a waste and untimely on your part, since this is a decision that’s going to be made next year.” — Wes Poole, commissioner

“We should work on the budget. We don’t want to let anyone go. But at this time, as tough as the budget is, we would do our citizens a disservice. We need to worry about it at the same time we work (on the budget.)” — Jeff Smith, commissioner

Comments

Retiredfirefighter

Hey old friend some day soon i will come down and see you again. I want a tour of central station.

KnuckleDragger

Have you considered looking into the figures of vehicle leasing and the rechassis of ambulances? Doing this may lower the amount needed for vehicle replacement and show the commissioners that the fund would be fine even if you used part of it for payroll. Just a thought. There is a service in the area that is doing rechassis work on ambulances with good success and it is saving quite a bit of money by doing it that way. If this is something you might be interested in I could email you the contact.

Paul E. Ricci

Yes, we have looked at lease options and demonstration units. During the last evaluation, the lease option was not advisable due to cost and our current pattern of use and need but that doesn't mean we should dismiss this in the future. That is one reason why we purchased medium duty ambulances. After consultation with our fleet maintenance division, the medium duty chassis provided the best option for our inter-city conditions, use and maintenance. The patient compartments are durable, provide sufficient room for patient care, multi-plexed electronics and ease of maintenance. We typically get 8 years of service from our ambulances. These ambulances will be eligible for re-chassis in the next cycle saving 35%-50% on the cost of a new ambulance. In closing, we have a vehicle replacement plan and an excellent fleet maintenance division that provides for the timely replacement of vehicles. Thank you for your question.

mlbosque

What a rare and welcome breath of fresh air it is to see an official of your stature replying to the people whom you serve. I no longer live in Sandusky, but keep up through the Register's e-paper, otherwise I would take you up on your offer to obtain answers to the many questions we all have. I hope all those who have commented here have the decency to stop by and speak with you in person. Thank you.

Best Regards,

Monica Bosque

Darkhorse

The commissioners don't have the luxury of delaying the decision of layoffs much longer because the grant is about to expire. It is not fair to the firemen not knowing their fate. Grants should never ever be used to support salaries. Everyone knew that this day would come and taking one million out of the EMS fund is way too much money to take out of the fund.

YoMamma

Excellent response from a responsible chief! The city commissioners current and elect will cut essential services to keep non essential services. Mark my words the budget will be balanced on the police and fire almost exclusively.

Retiredfirefighter

you are right yomamma they will balance the budget on the backs of the cops and firefighters. Hey maybe we should we call the city commission for not doing their job.

akmed

When the city was awarded this grant there were commish. That told everyone this was going to happen. The grant would run its course and staffing would go back to where it was. But I give the Paul credit he is doing his best to keep his men.

samiam

The commissioners ask him to come up with Plan B and then won't act on it. If the commissioners and city manager were doing their jobs, maybe this wouldn't be an issue.

sandusky2012

Paul what is your salary?
what is salary of cpts.
lts?

SamAdams

I'm not opposed to added firefighters on staff (or police, for that matter). What I AM opposed to is accepting short term grant monies for such hires and not having a solid plan in place BEFORE the first hire is made as to how to retain those additional hires when the money runs out.

Again, we TOLD you so! And again, nobody could be unduly bothered to listen. If the Chief's plan isn't acceptable (and I'm inclined to agree with the rationale expressed by the Commissioners opposed to the money transfer), that may be because it's a last ditch effort and all that's left to him. This should have been discussed and decided three years ago. It wasn't. That's not an easy pill to swallow, but it's true.

samiam

Was Ricci even chief three years ago? Did his plan include a way to pay for new vehicles and equipment?

sandusky2012

how about the fire dept does like the city in toledo not provide benifits to spouses how much $$$ will this save having not provide primary ins to spouses? SORRY sandusky doesnt need 3 stations how many does perkins have? what about mutual aid?

Retiredfirefighter

Sandusky2012 i am sad to say but it does need 3 stations. ISO insurance ratings based on cities the size of sandusky recommend 3 stations. Sandusky 2012 do you own a house? Are your homer owner insurance rates low? You want to know why fire insurance for your house is low? It is because Sandsuky meets ISO's standard for a city of it's size having 3 stations that are manned 24/7. So know the facts before you start running your mouth.

mikesee

Tiffin is comparable in size and after looking online I see they only have 2 stations. They are rated by ISO as protection class 4. Sandusky also rated protection class 4 if I am not mistaken.

Uncommon Sense

ISO rating has nothing to do with manpower or number of stations. It has to do with equipment, water supply, training, preplanning and other categories. There are fire departments in the US that are 100% volunteer and have an ISO rating of 1 (which is the highest rating a department can have).

"The Stafford (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department holds an exemplary “class 1” ISO insurance rating. It is manned by a team of 79 dedicated firefighters led by Fire Chief Larry DiCamillo..." http://www.cityofstafford.com/ci...

sandusky2012

retiredfirefighter you state: well lets increase the police department by 100% after all insurance rates for property insurance should also decrease since we will have more police to be pro-active. the one reason for the overpass was to allow fire trucks to respond to the west side . yeah time may increase but its the same with a volunteer squad.

D29m2

Here's an idea for the commissioner's that voted "nay" ... how about that in the future (sincerely, God forbid ) should you need EMS or SFD services, go hop in your car & drive yourself to the ER OR, go outside and pray that your garden hose isn't frozen solid and douse your own fire. With a reduced staff, you may just have to "pick a number " and hope you're # 1 .

Stop It

You leave your water hose out all winter with water in it, D29m2?

Plan on buying a new one every year.

DEATHnTAXES

Go to www.city-data.com and search: Troy, Ohio-Zanesville, Ohio- Xenia, Ohio--Wooster, Ohio--Medina, Ohio to name a few---- All cities comparable in size to Sandusky and you'll notice most of these cities have far fewer firefighters and far less debt than Sandusky. The problem here is uncontrolled and unwise spending habits by local government over the past two decades.

Minimum Fire Staffing Levels:http://www.orovillemr.com/news/c...

U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center Structure Fire Response Time YR 2006: www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/...
""CONCLUSION:Despite the differences in time of day, season, or location in the country, there is not a great difference in response times to structure fires as analyzed here. A more detailed analysis may uncover larger differences.
In most of the analyses done here, response times were less than 5 minutes nearly 50% of the time and less than 8 minutes about 75% of the time. Nationally, average response times were generally less than 8 minutes. The overall 90th percentile, a level often cited in the industry, was less than 11 minutes. How much current response times have been impacted by industry standards and fire department goals is not clear"".

The Boston Globe conducted a study and examined 20,000 fire departments across the country in 2005. “On-time” was determined by The Globe to be six minutes, although this is the response-time standard for career fire departments only.

From The National Fire Protection Association Standards Council::"""Response time. Another element of NFPA 1710 being taken as an absolute is a four-minute response time. Actually, NFPA 1710 allows 60 seconds for turnout and calls for the first engine company to arrive at a fire-suppression incident in four minutes (240 seconds) and/or eight minutes (480 seconds) for the first full-alarm assignment, 90% of the time. In other words, a department can miss the four-minute mark on occasion, but it must make the eight-minute mark to comply. With turnout time included, fire departments effectively have five-minute and nine-minute response requirements. There's no such “and/or” construction for EMS calls""".

A Sandusky fire response time of 4 minutes, up from 2 minutes, falls well within the NFPA standards guideline may be acceptable given Sandusky's lowering population tally, lower housing stock numbers, the lack of once upon a time industrial base, and remaining lower wage jobs.

It's rather hypocritical of the fire chief to encourage debate on this website but expected the City Commission to stamp approval papers transferring funds from an equipment fund to personnel without discussion, research and debate.

publicsafety

I totally agree, and look as a firefighter we preach NFPA, but yet don't ever listen to it either!

Oh that is right, the fireservice has no true standard, NFPA is just a guideline that you can use if you wish, but is not mandated!

Paul E. Ricci

Thank you for pointing out the specifics about NFPA 1710. When most people hear about "response time" they generally do not understand all the components of response time. What we refer commonly as response time is actually "travel time". As you point out, "Response Time" encompasses the length of time from discovery of an emergency through the arrival of the appropriate resource. NFPA 1710, sections 3.3.53 gives a complete description of the concepts of calculating the total "response time". For purposes of this discussion, the City of Sandusky Fire Department has an average "travel time" of 2:52 for 4258 EMS calls this year and 3:44 for 847 Fire calls this year. We were able to meet the 4 minute (240 sec.) travel time threshold for Fire calls 78% of the time. We were also able to meet the 4 minute (240 sec.) threshold for Basic Life Support EMS 91% of the time. This can be found in 5.3.3 of NFPA 1710. The threshold for Advanced Life Support (Critical Care) is 8 minutes. The City of Sandusky provides a paramedic service with the capability of delivering BLS or ALS care. In the presentation on Monday night, the statement was "the closure of station 7 and / or station 3 will increase "response time" (travel time) by 2 to 4 minutes. Thus, a 2 minute 52 sec. average EMS time becomes 4:52 to 6:52. The challenges to response within the City of Sandusky lies in its geographic configuration. As you know, we are linear, approx. 1.5 miles wide and 7.5 mile long. Linear cities are more challenging to protect than "square or rectangular" cities. These types of cities (which you provide very good links)tend to place fixed facilities and resources in the center of the geographic area, providing uniform coverage. Linear cities, however, are a little more challenging because of the longer travel distance from one end of the city to the other end. Linear cities generally place stations to adequately overlap coverage on "built upon" areas to provide 1 mile/ 2 mile radius' for engine and ladder coverage. The Public Protection Classification Program of the ISO does take into consideration a cities ability to provide adequate staffing, fixed facilities, training and equipment (fire department module)in the determination of its classification. In addition to the fire department module, the water supply and fire alarm & communication modules also are evaluated. The PPC is designed this way because one size does not fit every city. I would agree, ultimately, it is the voting public that must decide the level of service they need and that they are willing to support. Thank you so much for your dialogue. I look forward to meeting you and discussing this in more detail. Have a good evening.

J. Hartman

First of all, I applaud Chief Ricci for joining in this dialogue and I also think he is doing what any good "leader" is supposed to do and should do. Take care of his men and women under his supervision. That being said, I encourage all to take him up on his offer and visit the central fire station and look at the black and white and after doing so ask any questions you may have face to face. Get the answers from the horses mouth and not the jack's(donkey's) who bash now, but fail to mention they at one point in time were in positions to prevent what we have before us now or in some way they were a factor. While at the station, maybe also ask to see what other departments, be it city or county, SFD and SPD are either picking up the slack for their lack of staff or the other obligations/responsibilities that have been added to their plates that really aren't theirs. If anyone wishes to take Paul up on his offer, I will be more than happy to meet you there as well. Also, and I haven't looked or dug into any cities of similar size, but how are those cities doing from an economic standpoint? By that I am referring to what is their main industry, did they have factory jobs that have left, did they have past commissions(again city or county) who have thwarted economic development for personal reasons, are they mainly a tourist location? I would also be curious if polled what those cities have as a mindset? A negative one where no one is willing to compromise and negativity is shoved down the citizens throats from several directions for the most part? Again, take Paul up on his offer! P.S. I'm not saying there isn't an issue here, but what I am saying is take a deeper look into the WHOLE picture before saying cutting emergency services is the way to go. Just my thoughts and not looking for an argument, 1st amendment use while I still can!

Retiredfirefighter

Very well said. People should take him up on his offer. I wont take him up on his offer because i know him and i know he has done his research. If i go down to see him it will be to see an old friend, but like i said J. Hartman very well said. The real question is how many people will actually take him up on his offer? I bet none of them will.

J. Hartman

Thank you Retiredfirefighter and thank you for your service. I actually hope a few do as well and not because I was trying to be offensive and challenge folks to take him up on the offer. I stressed that point because someone might actually be holding an answer that could benefit all and just not realize it. Who knows, they sit down and see exactly what Paul or John are dealing with in their respective departments, they potentially could hold a solution no one has thought of or have been hesitant for one reason or another to say it publicly. So not all debates or differences in opinion are bad in nature. That hidden positive just hasn't shown itself yet. Again, just my opinion.

DEATHnTAXES

@J Hartman

All the questions and concerns you ask about can be addressed by "clicking" on the links I provided in my previous post and researching (for yourself) using the City's web site. A good start would be this Monday at 5pm when the City Commission meeting is re-aired on Cable Channel 81. The Chief talks about response time increasing to 4 minutes (up from 2) if 6 firefighters are laid off. Again National Firefighter Standards are set at between 4 minutes and 8 minutes for response time.

www.city-data.com

How did we as a city function prior to receiving the SAFER Grant for 6 additional firefighter?

Minimum Staffing Levels are set based on the number of "Firefighting Apparatuses" in the City's inventory.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@deathntaxes

I have started a search of your suggestions and I see where some of the communities have a mixed "career and volunteer" fire department.
Some have a "Safety Service Director" heading both fire and police.

Reading some of the comments on this and previous stories on this topic, it's evident many of the elderly are concerned about response times for stroke and cardiac arrest instances. Reading a copy of Sandusky's ICMA study suggests placing cardiac arrest defibrillators in police cruisers and training officers in use. . I do not believe this was followed up on.

Paul E. Ricci

Minimum staffing levels are partially attributed to the number of fire apparatus. ISO PPC requires that the City of Sandusky provide 3500 gallon per minute fire flow in the built upon areas of the city. This can be accomplished with three fire engines (each with 1500 gpm pumping capacity). We also need to provide a reserve engine. If we provide a minimum of 3 personnel per engine, that equals 9. One aerial ladder is required for full credit by the ISO PPC, that requires 3 personnel. The City of Sandusky Fire Department personnel are cross-trained to provide EMS as well, three paramedic units and one reserve. A minimum of two EMT's (State of Ohio Requirement for transport) equals 6. Add a shift commander and the minimum staffing level per day should be 19 personnel to respond in each available unit. Unfortunately, we only have 11 or 12 working each day. NFPA 1710 provides some additional guidance for minimum levels of staffing for "first alarm assignment" fire calls and for minimum levels of staffing for BLS and ALS EMS calls. Unfortunately, the City of Sandusky Fire Department, with minimum staffing of 11 does not meet the minimum staffing requirement for "first alarm assignment". We are able to use mutual/automatic aid to assist in meeting this initial alarm requirement. The standard also offers guidance in the need to provide at least two paramedic trained personnel minimum on each Advanced Life Support (ALS) response.

These guidelines are just that, guidelines, but as many Fire Chiefs have found out, failure to manage closely to a nationally recognized consensus standard due to budget challenges is not a defensible position when faced with litigation. We do the best we can with the resources we have, hoping that we are able to provide the best possible service to the community and at the same time provide the highest margin of safety to our personnel.

DEATHnTAXES

@

OnlyfoolsAssume

Or how about everyone in the city pays taxes which would solve the problem. Instead this city is run down because of all the rental's and welfare no one has pride in their homes.

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