Tucson Fire Chief Jim Critchley is proposing to cut $4.7 million from the department budget — which includes possible job demotions — in a belt-tightening measure to help the city’s budget woes.
The proposal was released in a memo from the chief to all employees. Some of the changes may begin before July.
City Manager Michael Ortega has asked all city departments for plans to cut costs because the city’s deficit for fiscal year 2017 is expected to be $25.6 million. The Fire Department’s plan was presented to Ortega, and Ortega still needs to present a budget to the mayor and City Council.
In the memo, Critchley said the Fire Department’s proposal was a “difficult task” and said the “changes may impact how we provide services to the community.”
However, in an email interview, Critchley said he does not believe the cuts will affect the department’s average response time, which is now 7 minutes, 28 seconds per call. The budget cuts will eliminate 14 full-time positions.
“As difficult as it may be, rethinking how we do things today may reveal new, innovative, and more efficient ways to provide services tomorrow while still adhering to our mission,” Critchley said in the memo.
Josh Campbell, president of Tucson Firefighters Association Local 479, said in a prepared statement: “The service delivery of the Tucson Fire Department will be affected, from the 911 caller, to the business community, and certainly the protection and safety of our firefighters.”
“If the city wishes to maintain its current level of service, then we need to collectively explore new sources of revenue to the city’s budget,” Campbell said.
The Fire Department’s budget is $99 million. It has a staffing of 633 commissioned firefighters and 150 civilian personnel. The department responds to 85,000 medical and fire calls a year, said Critchley.
Critchley is calling for the reclassification of 13 paramedics to firefighters at a savings of $323,470. This would be accomplished by restructuring some paramedic staffing.
This means three fire engines would be potentially without a paramedic to start advanced life-support measures on a patient, which includes cardiac care and drug administration, explained Capt. Barrett Baker, a department spokesman.
It also calls for eliminating one of the four rescue truck units for a savings of $682,080. These two-person trucks are staffed with a paramedic and a firefighter. The seven full-time firefighter positions affected could be used to fill other open positions.
The plan calls for reassigning six fire-prevention inspectors and one captain from eight-hour workdays to 24-hour shifts, and the possible demotions of inspectors to paramedic, engineer or firefighter ranks. This would result in eliminating seven vacant firefighter positions, the memo states.
Critchley also proposes hiring four civilian fire-prevention inspectors and one manager. This would require developing a civilian job classification and a training program. These changes, including the reassignments of inspectors and possible demotions and shift changes would save $438,890.
A reduction in overtime by converting paramedics to firefighters; cutting a paramedic class; reduction in pension costs because of overtime cuts; and moving two captains within the department is expected to save $3.1 million.