A reliable emergency response system is an integral part of a city's backbone. That system provides a sense of safety that allows a community to "bloom." It not only attracts residents, it encourages investment and economic development. And that's why we're disappointed officials with the city of Bloomfield say that they don't plan to invest more resources into strengthening the Bloomfield Fire Department.
Earlier this month, city officials accepted a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire seven full-time firefighters, giving the department a total of 10. The move brings the fire department in line with the National Fire Protection Association's standards, and it should help the department improve its response time on nights and weekends. But officials have stressed the city likely won't continue to fund the positions after summer 2016, when the grant's funding runs out.
That's a mistake, we think. The federal grant provides a stopgap to a problem that will only get worse as Bloomfield grows. Bloomfield Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler called 2013 "one of the worst years we've ever had for lengthy responses and people not responding." In more than 30 cases last year, a lengthy response time to a fire or medical call negatively affected residents, Fire Chief George Duncan told the Bloomfield City Council. In some cases, residents waited more than 30 minutes for an ambulance and 11 minutes for crews to arrive to douse a structure fire. It took volunteers on nights and weekends an average of 10 minutes to respond to calls. The city's paid firefighters, who work weekdays during business hours, did it in an average of four minutes.
The way we see it, the FEMA grant buys the city a little time. Officials now have two years to figure out a funding source to keep or expand the level of emergency service.
If the city is already struggling to provide prompt emergency services to its residents, that problem will only deepen as the city's boundaries expand. Bloomfield is poised to more than double its size when it annexes more than 6,700 acres of San Juan County land. The land includes several companies in the energy industry, which are expected to grow the city's tax base. We think it should be a priority for the city to invest some of that new revenue in emergency services. That would serve the current community and address its future needs.
An aging population will also lead to a greater demand for emergency medical services, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau predicts employment of emergency medical technicians and paramedics will grow by 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, and, over that same time period, employment of firefighters is projected to increase 7 percent. As Bloomfield's population grows and ages, it's safe to conclude the demand for emergency medical services will surge.
As far as we know, the fire department's slow response times haven't led to fatalities. But, without a commitment to expand emergency services, it's only a matter of time until that happens. The city of Bloomfield needs to spend the next two years securing a source of funding to keep those additional firefighters on the job.