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Chief: More Firefighters, New Equipment Needed in Bellevue-Dayton

The Bellevue-Dayton Fire Board discussed the five-year strategic plan for its fire department on Thursday. The plan was first drafted last year. In it, Bellevue-Dayton Fire Chief Mike Auteri and his staff prioritized specific resources that the department said it requires to best handle the needs of the two cities.

There were four main items that Auteri said were needed the most: new heart monitors and defibrillators, an increase in fire personnel, a renovation of the restroom/shower areas at the firehouse, and a replacement of the aging fire apparatus.

He called the plan a wish list and went into the meeting knowing the difficulty in acquiring the funds needed to pay for these improvements. By the end of the meeting, the board and the chief agreed to scale back what they would ask their respective city councils to pay for in hopes that it would make for a more palatable offer.

Specifics that emerged within the four categories

Chief Auteri said that the current heart monitors and defibrillators inside the emergency vehicles his staff uses are now seven years old and that the software needed to operate the monitors can no longer be updated by its software carrier. He said that this equipment is especially necessary in communities with a large population of elderly people who have more heart-related emergencies. It ranked on the top of his list.

“Both of our communities are older communities so a lot of our runs are cardiac,” Auteri said.

The expected cost for the updates on monitors and defibrillators was totaled at a little over $$73,000. That item seemed to have the most support from the members of the Fire Board and was included in the proposal the Board would likely make to its city councils.

Auteri also said that his staff is too small to safely keep the department up to quality standards. Currently there are three five-person shifts that rotate 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Every ambulance run requires at least two people and each fire engine run requires three. When a fire engine is dispatched, that leaves only two firefighters in charge of two cities.

Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters have become increasingly scarce in urban communities and what was once a relied upon element to local firefighting has become so rare that the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department does not expect any volunteer help in the future.

“The ones we did train, we hired,” Auteri said.

The goal of the Department is to hire six additional employees in the five-year plan, three of which Auteri hopes can be procured through grant money, but if that grant funding does not come through, he would like to see the staff expanded by three. Chief Auteri said that one new employee would cost almost $68,000 including salary and benefits, and that three new firefighters would cost $201,000.

By the end of the evening, though, it was decided that only one new employee would be included in the proposal to the city councils.

Renovating the facility's restroom and shower area is  related to adding more staff in the building. There are too many workers without enough facilities to accommodate the staff as is, so any additional bodies there would further tax the shower and restroom situation, the chief said.

“There have been times where the firefighters have to go over to the City Building in Dayton to use the restroom because either the bathroom is broken or one is broken and the other one is occupied. So with adding manpower, this is going to have to come too with the renovations of the restrooms,” Auteri said.

Part of the problem is that the current facilities were developed with a single-gender workforce in mind. Today's workforce is made up of both men and women and the firehouse facilities are required to reflect that.

Chief Auteri was asked by Board Member Matt Olliges if he and his staff could find an estimate for the work needed to renovate the shower and restroom areas before the special meeting on Monday, March 2. The renovations were also included in the agreed upon offer to the city councils.

The most expensive request was for the purchase of a new ladder truck and two pumper engines. In the plan, it was outlined that the Department intends to continue to apply for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant for the new ladder truck, but they were not successful for the same grant in 2013.

The Cities of Bellevue and Dayton provide $32,000 annually to the Fire Department as a set-aside fund for big-ticket items such as these, and while the Department realizes that they won't be able to pay outright for their desired equipment, they do think they could use the money as a down-payment for a loan on the machinery.

The ladder truck and two engines were not included part of the proposal to Bellevue and Dayton.

“I think we try to fit what we can into our city's budget,” Auteri said. “We don't need a Cadillac. I think we could find something in the middle price range.”

The strategy for the Fire Board is to reconvene at the special meeting they planned for March 2 at Callahan Center in Bellevue, where they will hear the estimates of the renovated restroom in the fire house and come up with harder numbers to propose to the cities.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor