Oklahoma City firefighter jobs will be lost this summer if city employee unions reject salary reductions, resulting in slower emergency response times citywide, Fire Chief Keith Bryant said Tuesday. "It’s not a good or preferable option for us,” Bryant told the city council during the fire department’s budget presentation. The fire department could keep current service levels if the unions accept pay cuts, Bryant said. Negotiations between the city and its police, fire and city worker employee unions are ongoing. City officials have declined to disclose specific concessions they’ll ask the unions to accept. The city must pass a balanced budget by June 30. For the fire department, union concessions would allow the restoration of some positions that were lost during midyear budget cuts and addition of 10 firefighters paid for by MAPS 3 use tax money. Without concessions, fire department service levels will decrease. A fire engine and three brush pumpers will be taken out of service and 29 employees will be cut.Comments
Duplicated servicesWard 5 Councilman Brian Walters asked Bryant whether money could be saved if firefighters change how they respond to medical calls. Ambulances and fire trucks almost always respond to the same medical calls. "We do need to eliminate some of those that are what you would call non-emergency calls,” Bryant said. "I also know there’s always going to be a certain amount of over-response.” Bryant said he’s talked with officials from the city’s ambulance provider, Emergency Medical Services Authority, about ways to prevent unneeded or duplicated responses to medical calls. Preventing that could prove difficult, Bryant said, because emergency responders typically rely on information collected by dispatchers when deciding how to respond to an incident. "A lot of times we don’t have the luxury of taking the time to vet that out,” Bryant said. "If we had a way of vetting that out more, that would improve that, but then we’re taking more time to get through that dispatch process.” Fire department medical engines sometimes respond to medical calls on their own rather than at the request of a dispatcher, a practice that has been scrutinized by city council members in recent years. "That’s a concern that’s been there forever,” said Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs, a former fire chief. However, not having fire engines as first responders to medical calls could increase the city’s subsidy cost for EMSA because it would result in more ambulances being needed on the streets, Marrs said. "We try to find that happy medium all the time,” Marrs said.