Pictured above: Fire Chief Brian Hendricks speaks during a board meeting. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.
By Gloria Lloyd
The Mehlville Fire Protection District wants to add a seventh ambulance, which would ensure the district has seven-day ambulance coverage at all seven of its firehouses for the first time.
Chief Brian Hendricks last week asked the Board of Directors to move forward with preliminary steps toward his goal of adding two new ambulances to the fire district’s fleet by Jan. 1.
The MFPD currently has 24-hour ambulances at five of its seven firehouses.
The No. 6 Firehouse at Becker Road in Oakville does not have an ambulance, and the headquarters on Mueller Road in Green Park has a 12-hour ambulance that can run up to 24 hours depending on staffing. The 1757 ambulance at Green Park is staffed 24 hours a day when there are no staffing shortages.
The chief first presented the plan to board members June 19, when he said, “In our constant effort to increase services to the taxpayers of the district… We would like to present to the board the opportunity for us to increase the number of ambulances that we have on the street. We would like to be able to provide seven ambulances to our taxpayers seven days a week.”
To increase to seven ambulances, the district will have to hire a dozen new employees, who will work 12-hour shifts instead of the standard 24-hour shifts of firefighter-medics already at the district.
The district will also have to buy two new ambulances, which it will fund by delaying a pumper purchase for one year.
That purchase will not have a negative effect on the district’s overall apparatus plan, however, Hendricks said. He asked for the board’s permission at that June meeting to put together a “comprehensive plan for apparatus replacement” that includes the two new ambulances, and the board agreed.
Although board members have signaled their support of the plan, the ultimate approval of the proposal would come when the 2020 budget is approved in December.
Adding another 24-hour ambulance and the firefighter-medics to staff it would not be affordable for the district in either personnel or equipment, but “this is affordable,” Hendricks said. “We’ve run the models, we feel that this is sustainable…. We feel that it’s going to address the needs of the public. And we can do it in a way that’s not going to drive up our costs.”
The new ambulances are needed to keep up with calls coming in.
“We have to make a decision as a district on how we’re going to keep up with our call volume,” Hendricks told the board. “Our call volume is increasing significantly as we analyze the data… We’re running status zero a lot — which means we’re running out of ambulances. Which means we’re running on mutual aid, which is increasing response times. We need to get ahead of it.”
To address that shortage, the district would add two more ambulances on the street on weekdays and weekends.
However, the district would decrease overnight ambulances from five to four to help pay for and staff the new plan.
Most calls come in between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., so the district does not feel like it’s losing service by adding daytime staffing instead of overnight, Hendricks noted.
“If you analyze the numbers, that’s when we’re relatively slow,” the chief said. “During the day, that’s our busiest time.”
Last week, Hendricks asked the board if he could publicize the annual salaries and hourly wages of the new 12-hour jobs internally to current employees, some of whom might want to switch from their 24-hour shifts.
And the district will have to know which workers are shifting jobs in order to know how many new people to hire.
Hendricks mentioned an annual wage starting at more than $59,000 for the positions, which would amount to a total $262,534 cost to the district if all goes as planned.
“Absolutely,” said board Chairman Aaron Hilmer.
“Go forward,” said board Secretary Ed Ryan.
Part of the new personnel costs will be offset by a decrease in unscheduled overtime, which is how the MFPD is currently running as many ambulances as it is.