Understanding manningWritten by Michael Nicely Tom Bartley | | Duty@toledofreepress.com
Motivated by an ever-increasing run volume and reduction of manpower, Toledo firefighters launched a campaign in 1975 to create a safe and reasonable number of firefighters per day. It became an ongoing legal slog lasting nearly 20 years, culminating in minimum daily line strength of 103.
Manning has two aspects. The first is the number of firefighters per rig. This is a firefighter safety issue. Number of firefighters per rig impacts what they are able to accomplish, and how safely, on scene. An ideal number, according to the National Fire Protection Association, of firefighters per engine are at least four. Presently Toledo has four firefighters per engine. Stations with a transport and engine have a five-person crew responding to emergencies.
The responsibilities of a fire scene will utilize all of the firefighters of the first arriving crew. The officer will remain outside of the structure to maintain command. The driver is the engineer who operates the pumps to provide water. The two remaining firefighters will perform the fire attack or rescue. Fewer than four firefighters per engine would impede the ability to perform an effective fire attack or rescue. Following engines will then be assigned duties as needed.
Advanced life support runs, such as a pulse less person can almost never have enough first responders. Tasks, such as quality CPR, identifying cardiac rhythm and following appropriate protocols, possible defibrillation, drug administration, constant reassessments, obtaining an IV, securing the airway, ventilations and manpower to get the patient and equipment from the scene to the Life Squad for transport will tax the on scene crews.
The second aspect of manning is daily line strength, which is a safety issue for the citizens of Toledo. This number impacts firefighters’ abilities to handle the run volume and have timely responses, especially since the creation of 911.
Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. A swift knockdown of fire, in an aggressive interior attack, is the most effective way to limit property damage, increase firefighter safety and save civilian lives. While most attack teams might find it fun, it can be a bit lonely at a good fire when you are the only rig on scene and the next due is a few minutes away.
EMS wise, it is extremely important to get on scene as expediently as possible. The Toledo Fire and Rescue Department (TFRD) provides both basic life support and advanced life support services. Consider that survival rates are reduced by 10 percent every minute in cardiac arrest, and that the brain begins to die in four minutes once blood ceases to flow to it. As Dr. Tolian Soran once said, “time is the fire in which we burn.” Adequate response times by TFRD personnel are critical.
The minimum manning requirement allows the fire department to maintain adequate staffing on our apparatus. If a firefighter becomes sick or injured without such a requirement they would not have to be replaced. This is a benefit for firefighter and citizen safety. As residents, our family safety is also dependent upon prompt and sufficient response.
While we do have mutual aid agreements with outlying communities, they are not designed to be utilized on a regular or consistent basis. Relying too heavily on outlying communities robs those taxpayers of their daily protection, such agreements are for unforeseen and overwhelming contingencies only, not to supplement degrading response quality of neighboring communities.
The original 1975 pact between the union and city created safety-manning numbers, which was a minimum number of firefighters per rig. The loophole was that the city could put rigs out of service, lowering daily line strength within the language of the agreement.
The goal from then on was a minimum daily strength coupled with minimum manning per rig. We’re sure you can imagine the legal wrangling that ensued throughout the years. The city defended an irrationally danger low line strength number, while the union went with higher line strength ideas. Every permutation of statistic comparing other cities fire services, size of population, response times, run volumes, reliance upon mutual aid and size of city was bandied about in often hypertense and angry conversations. People would actually get red faced and scream. A few would storm out of the room in some elaborate huff at a critical moment. One would almost think it theater if not for the fact they were totally serious.
By the late 1980s, this legal maneuvering came to head during negotiations. Unsure of the outcome, but wanting to at least accomplish something, the union offered 99, nearly 10 a day lower than they wanted, as a minimum daily number. The city refused and forced binding arbitration. Taking comparable data and both the union and city arguments the arbitrator came up with a daily line strength of 103.
Unhappy, the city began an immediate campaign to discredit and attack the number as egregious. The city saw the number as a ceiling it wanted to lower, and the union saw 103 as a floor it wanted to raise.
During the 1990s, Chief Mike Bell had a more service for less cost attitude in a quiet bid to maintain the 103. He stated numerous times the TFRD is “very, very, very efficient” and even became one of a handful of accredited departments in the nation. But this did not stop the city from going after the 103 in negotiations. It pushed the matter to arbitration. During this time the city commissioned a Corporation for Effective Government (CEG) study; with the idea its results would back the city with an arbitrator. The CEG was a nonprofit, non-partisan volunteer-based research organization tasked to evaluate the operations, manpower and structure of the TFRD.
Concerning the manpower issue specifically, the study recommended adding one engine and a truck and the accompanying manpower to existing operations. The CEG study did tip the arbitrator’s decision, just not the way the city had hoped. The arbitrator ruled the 103 to stand.
During the Jack Ford administration, another study was commissioned to determine proper staffing levels. The final version was never received by the city. That version was contingent on a minimal final payment; the city chose not to pay.
The minimum manning agreement guarantees adequate staffing levels for timely responses and manpower for the completion of critical fire, ground and emergency scene tasks. As the run volume increases, Chief Bell’s declaration of efficiency becomes more irrefutable by the year.
Michael Nicely has been a firefighter for 18 years. He is a paramedic and certified confine space rescue. Tom Bartley has been a firefighter for 10 years. He is an EMT, registered nurse, rescue diver and is certified in confined space rescue.
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