Your fire department is the deal of a lifetime

Filed under: Letter to the Editor,Opinion,Print | Tags:,

I’m writing in response to Raphael Sassower’s Dec. 16 editorial, “Eliminate the Fire Dept?”

My initial reaction to the article was one of disappointment and frustration. This stems from the multitude of inaccurate information and lack of understanding from an author that has admittedly yet to find himself in need of emergency services.

We appreciate the praise, but we’d like to shed a little more understanding on what the residents of Colorado Springs get from their fire department.

We have less than 400 sworn men and women working as firefighters, roughly 50 firefighters less than our peak authorized strength.

While the number of personnel has steadily gone down, the demand for service has consistently increased. Your fire department is on pace to respond to more than 54,000 calls for service this year, far exceeding the 35,000 Mr. Sassower quoted in his piece.

That number makes a difference when discussed in the context of whether or not our “efforts” are “worth it.” With a $57 million budget, that works out to less than $150 per resident annually.

When factoring in the reality that our city’s revenue stream relies heavily on tourism and sales tax, one could come to the conclusion that roughly 50 cents a day for a world-class fire department is the deal of a lifetime. In addition to the $270 million in property saved, as mentioned by Mr. Sassower, try putting a dollar figure on the amount of lives saved through fire and emergency mitigation.

It should be noted that the Colorado Springs Fire Department is credited with one of the most successful cardiac arrest survival rates in the United States.

Doing more with less is not just what we’re thinking; it’s exactly what we’ve been doing. The following are but a few additional examples of “doing more with less.”

The significant decrease in overall and on duty sworn personnel, including the daily staffing of HazMat 14

The substantial reduction in support staff personnel, resulting in the shifting of additional responsibilities to line personnel

A reduction in health care and pension benefits for firefighters

Just as important as the cuts we’ve endured, as a fire department and city, is the dedication to maintaining a safe and adequate staffing and deployment model despite the budget restrictions. The CSFD staffs all heavy apparatus with four highly skilled and proficient personnel.

Each member has a very specific and necessary job function, whether on the fireground, medical scene, or any other emergency we may be called to mitigate.

All sworn firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians, and at least one member in each firehouse is certified to provide advanced life support medical treatment. We respond and arrive first to establish treatment roughly 90 percent of the time on medical calls.

Mr. Sassower’s assertion that our engine and truck companies are equipped to deal with the “extreme” is certainly correct. However, the frequency in which the aforementioned “additional” equipment and staffing is an absolute necessity is far more often than not.

To suggest that an ambulance alone staffed with two personnel could provide an adequate level of service in our community is negligent. Everything we do relies on delivering the minimum number of adequately trained personnel to the emergency scene in a timely manner.

In addition to what firefighters may describe as standard calls for service (fire/medical), your fire department provides highly specialized wild fire urban interface suppression and pre-incident mitigation, high angle rescue services, hazardous materials emergency response, tactical emergency medical services, specialized heavy rescue, and a nationally recognized community outreach and education program.

As noted in the CSFD budget and operational priorities, prevention programs are of vital importance in our city. Unfortunately, the reality is no amount of prevention will ever fully eliminate the need for highly skilled and capable emergency response providers.

Mr. Sassower asks what the attraction is to working for the CSFD. He touched on a few mentionable aspects, but ultimately missed the mark. Simply stated, it’s the opportunity to serve the community by making a positive difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. We’re able to do this amidst what may be the worst circumstances they’ve ever encountered. Can you imagine a more fulfilling career?

I invite Mr. Sassower, and any other member of the community seeking a better understanding of their Colorado Springs Fire Department, to contact us. We’d be happy to schedule a ride along or visit to any of your 20 fire stations.

The brave, dedicated women and men of the CSFD are always happy to present our world-class fire department.

Jeremy M. Kroto is president of the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 5. He has served 10 years with the CSFD as a firefighter/paramedic.