Bloomfield fire chief tries to keep paid firefighters
The Bloomfield Fire Department on Friday goes through its morning routines, which include equipment maintenance and testing and a building inspection at a local school. Jon Austria/The Daily Times
BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield's fire chief is working to keep three full-time firefighters on the city's payroll, though possibly as part-time employees.
Bloomfield City Council in September voted to extend pay for three firefighters through the end of next month. Now, Chief John Mohler hopes councilors will consider keeping on those three firefighters as part-time employees.
The council is scheduled to discuss staffing at the fire department in a closed session today. No formal action is scheduled for the meeting.
The three firefighters were among seven firefighters who were hired in 2014 when the city was awarded a $1 million federal grant. That grant, which expired in October, brought the total number of paid firefighters to 10.
Before the grant, the department had three paid firefighters on staff who worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The push to keep the additional firefighters on staff comes as the city struggles with declining revenue from gross receipts taxes.
City Manager Eric Strahl said the city's gross receipts taxes are down about $279,000 in the first seven months of the fiscal year, compared to the city's projections.
To address the drop in funding, city officials have taken several steps, including laying off six full-time and two part-time city employees as part of a $180,000 budget cut in November.
A one-fourth of 1 percent gross receipts tax increase that voters approved in August is expected to bring in less money than expected. The tax increase was previously estimated to generate an extra $50,000 a month. But Strahl said the city now estimates it will bring in about $30,000 a month.
Even after four firefighters left the department when the grant expired, Mohler said the department has been able to maintain 24-7 coverage with six paid firefighters and volunteers.
He said the department could pay the three full-time firefighters as part-time employees through the end of this year, when he hopes gross receipts tax funding will improve and allow the city to hire them back as full-time employees.
Paid firefighters respond to fire calls several minutes faster than volunteers, Mohler said.
MORE ON BLOOMFIELD FIRE:
Before the federal grant was awarded, the average response time on nights and weeks was about 10 minutes. Since the grant was awarded, the department averages a four-minute response time, according to Mohler.
"The volunteers are great, and they do a great job," Mohler said. "But it takes an extra six minutes for them to get ready at their house and come down to the station and go respond on a call."
Firefighters also respond to medicals calls nearly five minutes quicker than an ambulance.
In January, the average response time for Bloomfield fire was three minutes and 56 seconds, compared to 8 minutes and 40 seconds for ambulances, according to figures provided by Mohler. Medical calls accounted for 93 of the 159 calls in January.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.