Aurora firefighters have highest number of calls in the nation, union says
The Aurora Fire Department — having already racked up more than $2 million in overtime last year — can claim the title of having the busiest firefighters of any department in the nation, according to an industry report.
The fire department union compiled 2014 data from Firehouse magazine, a leading industry trade publication, and found that Aurora firefighters respond annually to more calls per firefighter than any other department in the nation.
The 270 line firefighters in Aurora each responded to an average of 203 calls in 2014.
Cities of comparable size saw fewer calls, including firefighters in Tampa, Fla., which had 129 calls for each firefighter; Bakersfield, Calif., with an average of 159 calls; and Lexington, Ky., with 103 calls for each firefighter.
Even larger departments such as those in Denver, New York City and Houston saw significantly fewer calls on average compared with Aurora. Those departments have many more firefighters.
Staffing levels have caused some serious situations. For example, said Sean Moran, president of the Aurora Fire Fighters Local 1290 union, one firefighter fell asleep at the wheel while at a stoplight, and there have been other times firefighters worked well past the time their shifts are supposed to end.
In 2014, there were a total of 15 Aurora firefighters injured on the job, according to the department’s annual reports. That compares with zero in 2013, 12 in 2012, 14 in 2011 and 15 injuries in 2010. Some of those include training injuries, officials said.
In comparison, Lexington recorded nine injuries 2014, six in 2013, 14 in 2012, five in 2011 and 10 in 2010.
Firehouse magazine collected data from about 250 fire departments across the country that the Aurora union used to analyze call rates. Aurora came out on top of a list of calls per firefighter that union officials say they don’t want to be on.
“We are busier than anyone,” Moran said. “We’ve been short-staffed for years.”
Staffing has impacted several areas. The department isn’t staffed with enough trucks and pumpers as it should be on a daily basis, the union says. Aurora has only four firetrucks with ladders in active duty on a daily basis, even though it has several more trucks available.
In fact, Moran said, the AFD hasn’t added an extra truck to the daily operations schedule since the 1980s. Given the population of Aurora, with more than 350,000 residents, there should be two more manned firetrucks on any given day, he said.
Aurora Fire Chief Mike Garcia said he could not comment on staffing levels because the union and the city are in negotiations on a new contract and there’s a media blackout by both sides until an agreement is reached. Moran spoke to The Denver Post before discussions got underway.
However, Garcia did issue an e-mailed statement, saying the department follows best recommended practices set by industry groups.
“The department purchases and deploys ladder trucks in accordance and compliance with criteria established through the national accreditation process,” Garcia said. “We regularly monitor the criteria to determine when to purchase and deploy additional trucks. It is not driven by one factor, but by many in evaluating an effective fire response.”
While stopping short of calling it a “crisis,” Aurora City Councilman Bob Roth, vice chairman of the city’s public safety committee, said the staffing issues in the fire and police departments need to be addressed. Now is a good time for that conversation, Roth said, because Aurora is at the beginning of discussions regarding the 2017 budget.
“I do think there is something that needs to be done,” Roth said. “We need to supplement some of the equipment. We need more fire stations, and we need more bodies.”
In a previous interview before the negotiations began, Garcia said the Aurora Fire Department has been staffed the same way for the past 38 years he has been there. Aurora firefighters serve more time each month than other departments, including Denver. That has led to the high overtime the city has doled out, $2.3 million, for example, in 2015.
Because the city has grown a lot in recent years, Garcia said it could be time to change things.
“My No. 1 concern is the health and safety of my firefighters,” Garcia said.
James McMullen, a fire department management and operations consultant based in northern California, said Aurora’s high number of firefighter calls can have an adverse effect in a variety of areas. Workers becoming tired on the job can impact their performance, potentially causing more injuries and negatively impacting service levels.
“Those are the issues you are faced with,” McMullen said. “It sounds like they are an understaffed city.”
Article by Carlos Illescas with the Devner Post