Savage Fire tests staffing model
Pictured: Savage Firefighters working a Friday duty crew (left to right): Riley Brunner, Mark Monson, and Jon Litchy
Since the 1950s, Savage Fire has been a paid-on-call (POC) fire department, which means all 40 or so firefighters are paged out for every call, day or night, hoping that some of them are available to respond. Last year, Savage Fire responded to over 500 service calls. This is 100 more calls for service than the year before. This extra demand on our existing paid-on-call fire service model coupled with the challenge of recruiting and retaining firefighters prompted the City of Savage to look at different ways to improve emergency response and provide better coverage to meet service demands.
So, for the last three months during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of our firefighters have been furloughed or their hours at their “regular” job have been cut, Savage Fire took the opportunity to test a duty crew service model. “Not every emergency requires all our fire staff to respond,” states Fire Chief Andrew Slama. “Typically most calls for medical aid emergencies or smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms can be managed with one staffed fire engine of four firefighters”.
A duty crew means a small crew of firefighters are paid by the hour to staff the station at O’Connell Station #1 seven days a week. This assures there will be firefighters on duty to respond to an emergency call in the City. An “all call” is only paged out when additional firefighters are needed for multiple or large scale emergencies. “When the crew is not on a call during their shift, we have other responsibilities,” states 25-year veteran firefighter Mark Monson. “We help sanitize the station, trucks, and equipment. This sanitization is paramount every day, but even more important during the COVID pandemic.”
“Even in this short time, we have seen several benefits to the station staffing model,” states Fire Chief Andrew Slama. “The biggest one is reducing our response time. Having firefighters already at the station when a call comes in has been a night and day difference. With a staffed station, our duty crew and a truck can be out of the station in seconds rather than minutes.”
Another benefit has been the additional training opportunities, especially for younger firefighters like Riley Brunner. “For me as a junior firefighter, this has been a great time to learn from the more experienced guys. When the entire 40 person department is at the weekly training night, there just isn’t as much time for individual training, but since I have been on duty crew, I have gotten to drive the truck every day, practice pumping water, and I’ve become more familiar with all the various equipment.”
Perhaps the most visible benefit has been seeing the fire department out and about more. With firefighters at the station every day, they have gotten creative with how they do community outreach. “Normally, our firefighters would be going into schools and participating in various public education events, but with those canceled, they have been driving through neighborhoods flashing their lights, honking their horns, and putting smiles on lots of little faces. So far, they have participated in 134 drive-by birthdays. “I have never waved so much in my life!” teased firefighter Jon Litchy. “We love seeing how the community has responded to us and nothing is better than helping to brighten someone’s special day in this time of isolation.” And residents appreciate it:
"Thank you Savage Police and Fire for making Izzys 7th birthday special, she was shocked and almost in tears. We were supposed to be at Disney but due to COVID, we had to cancel. So we truly appreciate you taking time out of your shift to make her happy."
So, what’s next? The goal of the Savage Fire Department continues to be providing the highest quality of customer service we can achieve. Slama says the data and experiences from this test will help make future model decisions and help us continue to do better for our residents. “I know having firefighters staffing our station makes us a better fire department. We’re better trained, we have quicker responses, and firefighters appreciate knowing their schedule,” said Chief Slama.