Lack of overtime funds idles paramedic squad
Lori Consalvo, Staff Writer
Created: 02/26/2011 07:05:23 AM PST

MONTCLAIR – The Fire Department has depleted most of its overtime budget and will take a paramedic unit out of service whenever a firefighter is ill or on vacation.

This has already happened on five days after the City Council’s unwillingness on Feb. 15 to increase the department’s overtime budget for the rest of the fiscal year.

The paramedic squad was out of service on Feb. 18, 19, 20 and 21 as well as on Friday due to the shortage of personnel.

“(The Fire Department) is down a position on those days because they went through 80 percent of their annual authorized overtime within the first six months of the fiscal year,” Montclair City Manager Ed Starr said.

“The City Council simply said we’re not giving you any more overtime. Now they have to decide how to fill positions when people take vacation or sick time.”

Montclair Fire Chief Troy Ament said the department decided to make the staffing adjustments to help control costs, but admitted it will have an impact on service.

“I understand the city’s budgetary constraints, however, the reality and the anticipated frequency of removing the paramedic squad from service results in only two pieces of apparatus responding to the needs of the community instead of three,” Ament said.

“An additional call will now go unanswered until a unit can break free.”

Starr said he doesn’t think services will be too impacted when the paramedic squad is parked.

“The calls are still being responded to,” he said.

When a firefighter calls in sick or takes a vacation day, the department has parked the paramedic squad in which two firefighters work. One paramedic would be moved to a firetruck, leaving the department short a position for that day.

“The extra person is moved to the fire engine, and the firetruck has a stronger compliment than it would have,” Starr said.

Ament has a different way of looking at the staffing adjustments.

“When someone is off, the paramedic squad is parked because we simply can’t staff it,” he said. “It does affect services in the city. It takes away one-third of our response capability, and we lose flexibility and the ability to respond to simultaneous calls.”

The absence of the paramedic unit leaves the Fire Department with one less vehicle to use for emergencies, said Rusty Vidal, lead negotiator for the Montclair Firefighters Association.

“We want to make sure the citizens are aware that the squad is being taken out of service because of cost reduction decisions,” Vidal said.

Starr said the city is still serviced by AMR, which typically accompanies fire engines to every call, and other fire departments can respond to Montclair service calls through the automatic aid agreements.

“AMR would still respond with paramedics and to provide transport,” Starr said. “Automatic aid and mutual aid response would also occur for the appropriate calls.

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