Consultant Briefs Councilors on Highlights of Comprehensive Fire Department Study

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,329)

Overtime and overstaffing were two sticking points for the Portland  City Council on Monday night when Leslie Adams, CEO of PSSi, presented a study of the Portland Fire Department his company conducted at the request of the City.

The 532 page study listed 169 recommendations for the overall running of the Department, a figure that Adams, a former firefighter himself,  acknowledged to be on the high end of the spectrum. The study was sweeping in coverage, and not limited to administrative, fire and EMS, staffing, risk analysis, appartus, and health and safety categories.

To the obvious annoyance of Councilor Ed Suslovic, the $39,000. study did not explain why Portland has twice the staffing level of comparable cities in the northeast. Following the meeting, Suslovic cited the dramatic downturn in fire service calls in contrast to the even more dramatic increase in calls for ambulance service to the Fire Department. Suslovic said in a telephone conversation he believes those ambulance calls should be under the authority of Portland’s hospitals.  Additionally, Suslovic said he’d like to see the 160 person Fire Department reduced in size and officers added to the Police Department to increase its numbers to 175-180, or just under 200.

Adams rebuked Suslovic at the council meeting when Adams said that a comparision to other northeast communities was not within the study’s scope to research.  Unlike police staffing which is based upon per capita, fire department staffing is based on other factors, such as response times.  One source said that staffing levels are also  based on “hazards” – such as population density, age of buildings, etc.

Overtime costs had skyrocketed under the former Chief of the Fire Department who resigned under city pressure.  One source justified those expenditures like this:  On staff of the fire department are instructors who teach in the private sector.  A significant part of the overtime included inhouse training by those instructors that otherwise would have to be farmed out at a higher cost to the Department. The recommended increase in staffing to offset overtime is not going to happen warned  council members.

Chief Jerome Moira, just 90 days into his new position on Monday evening, will take the next 90 days to review the PSSi study before informing the councilors of priorities to be implemented by the city.