Ashland Fire & Rescue Recent History: A Coming Budget Issue

Recent History for Ashland Fire and Rescue by Brent Knutson

2016 was a momentous year for Ashland Fire and Rescue as we added 3 firefighters to the department.  With those three positions the department went from 27 firefighters to 30 firefighters.  This was the first time that Ashland Fire and Rescue was able to add firefighter positions in 20 plus years.  These firefighters were added to help keep up with call volume (9-1-1 calls).  No new positions have been added since.

            Fast forward to the 2019-2021 budget biennium. Call volume has continued to increase and the City of Ashland’s General Fund has a negative balance.  For the biannual budget of 2019-21, Ashland Fire and Rescue’s budget was cut $100k in yearly Over Time, $100K in material and services/yr, and lost our Deputy Chief position (200k/yr).  Our Chief at the time was Mike D’Orazi and he resigned to help save firefighter positions.  These budget cuts were due to the general fund’s negative balance.

            To explain the major impact that these cuts have had on Ashland Fire and Rescue, I need to explain some operational topics.  Prior to the cuts, we had a minimum of 9 firefighters and max of 10 firefighters per day.  I will be honest; this was an expensive staffing model, but it was needed.  It caused a lot of overtime because we can have up to two firefighters off per day.  When two people took a day off it would cause overtime.  However, it is and was needed because it allowed us to have 4 people at Station 2.  Having 4 people at Station 2 allows us to staff the wildland engine at Station 2 and a third out ambulance. 

Because of budget cuts in 2019 we had to reduce our minimum daily firefighter from 9 to 8 (no layoffs occurred) in January of this year.  Reducing our minimum staffing by one has major impacts on our operations.  It reduces firefighters at Station 2 from 4 firefighters to 2 firefighters.  With two firefighters the wildland engine and the third out ambulance at Station 2 are not staffed.  When there are two people at Station 2, we co-staff an ambulance and a fire engine.  This means when a medical call comes in, we take the ambulance and the fire engine is not staffed and vice versa for a fire call (ambulance at Station 2 not staffed).  I know overtime has bad connotations in the private industry but in the fire service it is necessary because we can’t go below a minimum number of firefighters on duty. 

In 2020, we are responding to 8% more 9-1-1 calls compared to 2019 with basically 10% fewer firefighters.  Keep in mind that we have had this increase in 9-1-1 calls without Shakespeare operating and SOU having a major reduction of students on campus since March/April of this year due to COVID. 

            In conclusion, we need to hire 3-6 more firefighters.  I realize this is expensive and I understand firefighters are expensive when compared to other public employees, but this would allow us to reduce overtime and allows us to meet National Fire Protection Association Standard 1710.  This link does a great job on explaining this standard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9qmMhtNGEs.  If we had more firefighters, it would also allow us to more adequately meet the needs of the citizens today and in the future while also increasing firefighter safety.

I would like to take a moment to say THANK YOU for the public’s support.  The public support for Ashland Fire and Rescue has always been fantastic and we can’t express in words how much we greatly appreciate it.

Brief History of Brent Knutson:  Currently serves as the President of the Ashland Firefighters’ Association, Local 1269.  He has worked at Ashland Fire and Rescue since 2006. He is currently a Captain on B-shift

//inserted by Sharon