The Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District will be reducing its fleet by four apparatus, as recommended by Chief Dennis Reilly, after the board of directors approved the action at its Jan. 20 meeting.
The move is part of overall efforts towards repositioning the department to more efficiently manage finances while improving service that Reilly has initiated since taking over leadership of the department nearly two years ago.
In a briefing report on the issue, the chief termed the fleet reduction a "starting point for the reallocation of funds" towards staffing more career firefighters.
"Decisions made in the past, based on assumptions of what the future will bring, have not necessarily born themselves to be accurate. The construction of neighborhood fire houses required apparatus to be purchased. In the 1980s and 1990s the district did enjoy a level of volunteer staffing that suggested the placement of these fire houses to be a valid strategy for fire protection in the district. The ISO [Insurance Services Organization] grading scale also contributed to the decision to build the apparatus fleet to the size we now see," Reilly stated in a briefing report to the board.
However in more recent years, the department has struggled to maintain volunteer firefighters at a significant level — as have other departments in the lake area and across the country.
Reilly's long-term goal is to work toward national standards for staffing, which includes the ability to place 17 firefighters at the scene of a single family residential structure fire within the first 10-12 minutes of the incident. One of the district's mid range goals is to be able to open a second staffed station.
With few volunteer firefighters remaining in the department and that number unlikely to improve — 2010 U.S. Census figures put the age of 60 percent households in the district at 50 years and above — Reilly has shifted the district's focus from providing apparatus for volunteer firefighters to utilize at outlying stations to boosting personnel through additional career firefighter positions.
To that end, voters passed a levy increase in part for the district to create three new firefighter positions in addition to the nine existing platoon positions and one floater position. The firefighter recruits in the new positions are scheduled to begin May 4. Each will be joining one of the three platoons housed at Station 2 to put four on duty the majority of the time.
The reallocation of funds through savings on insurance and maintenance of apparatus will help the process of trying to find funds internally to eventually create more firefighter positions beyond those now in the works.
"With the lack of volunteerism that has been seen in the American fire service, and which is the case here in Sunrise Beach, the need to maintain the volume of fire apparatus has greatly decreased," Reilly stated. "Our volunteer force is a critical part of our overall response plan, but as we have seen over time, our only true guarantee of delivering an adequate number of trained, certified personnel is through the use of full time career members."
Page 2 of 4 - The district plans to sell two of its eight Engines, replacing one at Station 1 with a brush truck. Its one Heavy Rescue truck, a utility/pump truck and one of two fire boats will also be sold. The district's current utility trailer and one staff vehicle will be sold and replaced.
That will give Station 1 an Engine, a Tanker and a brush truck. Station 2, which houses the career firefighters, will stay the same with two Engines (one of which is an aerial), two Tankers and a brush truck. Station 3 will drop to an Engine and a Tanker after the Rescue truck is sold. Station 4 will house an Engine and a Tanker after the sale of its utility/pump truck. Station 5 will drop down to housing one Engine after the other Engine there is sold.
"Several of the vehicles that we are going to sell have not made an emergency response in the two years that I have been here," Reilly said.
The reduction in the fleet will not negatively impact the department's operational capabilities in any way at all, he said, and should have little impact on the district's ISO rating which affects many home insurance policies.
With a field visit from the ISO recently completed, another is not expected for 10 years unless requested earlier by the district. In that time, the SBFPD expects to make up the minimal loss in points from the fleet reduction through other improvements.
According to Reilly, the district lost out on several points due to a lack of training hours averaged across the entire membership. The department is now working internally on addressing that issue.
While budget funds freed up from insurance and maintenance on the apparatus will be reallocated towards additional staffing, Reilly recommended using the funds from the actual sale of the apparatus to place three additional fire hydrants along the Route MM corridor.
"Any increase in the distribution and amount of fire hydrants has a positive impact on the ISO as well as enhancing our operational capability," he said.
In September, the fire district also approved the sale of Station 5 for $175,000 to Lake West Ambulance.
A lease agreement will allow the SBFPD to continue to house an Engine at the facility for response in the Sellers Rd. area where call volume has historically been minimal.
Between utilities, insurance and maintenance for the building, the district expects to save several thousand dollars a year in operating funds. Those funds will also be reallocated within the budget.
The district plans to utilize funds from the actual sales of the station and apparatus to start building the district's apparatus and major item replacement funds, replace the department's current brush truck and purchasing an additional brush truck for Station 1, replacing the two cycle outboard motors on the remaining fire boat and purchasing new communications equipment. It also plans to replace one of the staff vehicles with a new Ford Explorer police model from the state bid list.
Page 3 of 4 - Reilly said monies from the sales would allow the district to "make considerable headway on all these purchases while maintaining a significant balance in both the apparatus replacement and major equipment funds."
With good management, he estimated these accounts could exceed $175,000 in 2015 with the final payment on one of two bond issues being less than a regular payment.
The levy issue passed in August 2013 included establishing these funds by capturing the outgoing debt service from the paid-off bond issue.
The boost from the sale of the station and apparatus will accelerate these accounts which would not otherwise have been established until 2016.
"The leadership here is very sensitive to the increasing cost of doing business. Our citizens were very generous in August and we want to make sure that we make good business decisions that are in the best interest of our community," Reilly commented. "Our fleet was built around our environment 20 years ago. As times change our district must also change."
New radios approved
While the reduction in the fleet was unanimously supported by the board, the purchase of eight new APX seres Motorola portable radios with related accessories, spare batteries and chargers for approximately $34,000 was not.
Board member Bob Hemen voted against the motion to purchase with board members Bob Smithey and Garry Blackwell voting for it.
The purchase is being funded with monies from the sale of Station 5.
According to Reilly, the new radios will help address shortcomings in the current setup as the additional staffing and other changes in the system have led to an evolution in communications needs for the department.
When the chief came on board nearly two years ago, there were three different makes of portable radios in use within the department - none of which were programmed alike, he said.
Many operational personnel were issued what Reilly termed "less than optimal" equipment.
At that time, a plan was made to upgrade the existing portable radios and look into installing a repeater system.
That plan has changed as lake area fire departments have switched to a regional communications plan utilizing State V fire frequencies for mutual aid calls. With the volume of traffic on the Lake Fire frequency and the possibility of that channel becoming the dispatch frequency for several other agencies, the SBFPD has moved its single agency response radio traffic to a private frequency not monitored by dispatch.
With the addition to staffing expected in May, the department will also have the means to monitor tactical communications and provide a solid link between field forces and Camden County Communications.
Some of the portables that were in use have been phased out with replacements purchased with funds from the sale of the old fire house on Route TT. Four of these Tate radios remain in use, but the communications budget will fund their replacement by the end of 2014, Reilly said in his briefing report.
Page 4 of 4 - The Motorola XTS series that the SBFPD had planned to switch to department-wide has been found to have limitations that would be improved upon with the APX series.
The XTS radios are not water resistant and at least one has gotten wet at each of the last several fires the SBFPD has responded to, according to Reilly. The costs of repairs are around $300, but the cost to waterproof them now is estimated to be around $700.
The XTS radios are also not user friendly for firefighters wearing structural fire gloves. The AKA Man Down button is extremely hard to operate with the gloves on and removing gloves during a Mayday situation is unacceptable, Reilly said.
The APX radios resolve those issues as well as offer other benefits of new generation radios designed for fire service, such as reduction of background noise, GPS tracking capability and a Blue Tooth option to enhance the communications interface while self-contained breathing apparatus are in use.
The XTS radios will be moved into the district's radio cache to provide radios for large scale or protracted incidents.