The Springdale Town Council report for 14 April 2014 was filled with so many important issues that I begged off and promised to cover them in individual reports. This is mentioned under the heading:
- Rockville / Springdale Fire Protection District
Changes are a-coming! Believe it.
Rumors and rumors of rumors have been swirling about like an out-of-control wildfire. To throw a little cold water on the rumors, the Springdale town council asked our representative, Michael Plyler, to tell us what’s going on. The chairman of the Springdale / Rockville Fire District Board, Bob Orton, was there to back up Michael. They had a serious message for ZiCC people.
Michael started by covering a recent controversy … the purchase of a “new” ambulance. Michael noted that there were a lot of questions when the fire district bought an expensive new ambulance recently because people were worried that the fees would go up. According to Michael, the Utah state standard is that a fire district should keep an ambulance for ten years. We waited fourteen years before buying one.
Michael said that people have started showing up at fire board meetings and asking why the fire district is spending so much money. But nobody asks what shape the equipment is in. Nobody asks if hoses will burst and firemen will be standing there with no water. They only ask about cost. He added that fees probably will go up and he was there to tell us why.
He said that one citizen told him the fire district spent the outrageous amount of 51 percent of their budget on wages. He gave the council a two-minute explanation of the challenges faced by the Rockville / Springdale faces in protecting these communities compared with Las Vegas to illustrate the problem. Here’s a summary of what Michael said.
Las Vegas has 58 fire stations for 1,900,000 people or approximately one fire station for every 33,000 people. In Las Vegas, if there is a fire in a building in Las Vegas, the first response is two fire trucks, a ladder truck, an ambulance, and a hose wagon. Those five pieces of equipment cost approximately two million dollars and they are sent out by two fire stations. So 66,000 people are paying for approximately two million dollars of equipment. In Rockville and Springdale, we don’t have a ladder truck, we would have to take advantage of mutual aid from the Park to field two fire trucks. We don’t have a hose wagon. We do have an ambulance. The maximum number of people that could possibly be grouped together to pay for our equipment is about 1,600 people. We’re trying to pay for the level of fire protection with 1,600 people that is paid by 66,000 people in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas also depends on tourists for a large part of their revenue. But if you divide the number of their visitors by their population and do the same for Rockville-Springdale, you discover that in Las Vegas each resident only has one visitor 20 nights a year rather than 2.7 every night as we do to pay for their protection.
So, yes, the rumor is true. We’re getting ready to raise the standby fees.
Michael was a fireman in Las Vegas. He covered a lot of other detailed statistics about the cost of fire and emergency service to Rockville and Springdale. One of the biggest changes was the loss of a great fire chief in Ryan Ballard. Rockville and Springdale owes him a huge debt of gratitude because for the years that he was a fire chief, he basically did not have a life and would respond personally, day or night and then call volunteers to back him up. When the fire protection district was established, more of the community was young families and farms. Today, we’re mostly retired people and a lot of homes are second homes where people don’t even live there much of the time. We have a very small pool of volunteers to draw from. A lot of these homes are surrounded by dry brush and cost millions to build. But they still need fire protection. Our firefighters have to be both structural firefighters and wild land firefighters. We’re faced with the fact that we will have to pay a competitive rate for a service that has been more or less donated to the community for many years.
Michael said that we pay our firefighters $7.50 cents an hour. He said that when he a firefighter in Las Vegas, he was paid $10.64 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $23.52 an hour today. You might think we’re getting a bargain, but that wage is a double edged sword. Michael said that, having been a professional fire fighter, he would not run into a burning building for $7.50 an hour.
Michael also said that they had discussed the idea of contracting with Hurricane for fire protection. He said that they would cover us for the dollar amount of the budget we are proposing, but at half the staffing levels. They would also cut $135,000 from our budget that we use to pay people and buy equipment as “overhead expense” as part of the deal. As a result, they would not staff at a level that would allow both the ambulance service and the fire protection service to be fielded at the same time.
As a final point, Michael described exactly how fire protection would be provided if the community decided that, “No, this isn’t worth it. We’re not paying this.” The state would probably require Hurricane to provide the protection. Maybe Virgin will have a fire station at some point. But any protection would have to wait for the time it takes to drive up from one of those communities.
Michael said that our ambulance service has always operated at a loss. If it did not operate at a loss, another ambulance service would be up here wanting to do it. They’re not.
Michael said that our community has a decision that we have to make:
- What kind of protection do we want?
- How much are we willing to pay for it?
Michael and the rest of the Board have been crunching numbers for months now to try to find the most cost effective budget that they can. He said that they’re very close to a recommendation, but they’re not there yet. He described some of the ideas that they have settled on and the way the standby fees will be assessed, but we should all be prepared for a big change.