The Farmington Fire Department is going through multiple changes in its continuing quest to keep improving its share of the city's public safety.
Fire Chief Todd Mecey addressed the changes in personnel and equipment currently under way. He said that with the retirement of a senior officer and the need to reconfigure his response crews led to a lengthy process of determining promotions.
“Captain Harris retired after about 30 years serving the city of Farmington,” he said. “We promoted Rick Scavone to fire captain. We promoted Adam Schenavar to lieutenant and promoted Kyle Carter to lieutenant.”
The second promotion to a lieutenant’s position was due to the addition of a second alternative response crew to the fire department’s manpower rotation. Mecey explained that an alternative or rapid response crew is a two-man crew in a smaller truck that will attend to medical emergencies and minor accidents that are mainly assists for law enforcement and ambulance calls.
“Around April 1 we added an alternative response crew,” he said. “Previously the alternative response crews had been working four days a week, 12 hours a day. That’s a two-man crew that is responding to the majority of EMS calls. This frees up additional time on a pumper and due to the amount of simultaneous calls that we’re having at the same time.”
When the department has only one truck and crew available and have simultaneous calls, then they depend on having responders come to the station from home and then respond to a call. This significantly delays response times for the second crew. Mecey thinks that they have reduced that concern.
“[Since] we added the additional two-man response crew, we’ve increased that two-man staffing five days a week, 24 hours a day,” he said. “We’re running a three-man engine company and a two-man alternate response crew Monday-Friday, 24 hours a day. On Saturday and Sunday we just have the three-man engine company working.”
Mecey explained that adding the second rapid response crew meant changes to the equipment that they use. In an unusual set of circumstances, the new truck will be much smaller than the truck that they are replacing.
“We replaced a 1993 pumper that was at the end of the life cycle for our department,” he said. “It’s a very scaled down full blown pumper. Very short, very maneuverable, that truck was designed around this crew. It can seat four people, but it’s designed for just two.
"Rules require us that we have two people outside for every two people we have inside a fire. These two men, their job is going to be respond, establish water supply, don their turnout gear, and be the two people outside for the two people inside.”
Since all of the Farmington Fire Department’s staff is paid, they are classified differently than a volunteer fire department and are required to have more stringent standards regarding response times, Mecey noted.
“Under National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, EMS calls, we’re being a paid agency,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time we shall be responding within four minutes. Our overall response times have been staying around that four minutes.
"We’ve seen that creep up to close to four and half minutes 100 percent of the time and that’s simply because of the frequency of the simultaneous calls. When we wait for crews to come in and then respond to the call, then that can go up to eight to 11 minutes to get on the scene, where our full time crews are there in four minutes or less.”
With the growth of Farmington and less available talent to choose from, Mecey has had to make changes in their residency requirements. The previous residency requirement was living with five air miles of the station.
“Our applicant pool has decreased,” he said. “The firefighter program at MAC has not been ongoing for the past year or two. We always depended on that to produce applicants. We require everyone to be Missouri State Certified Firefighter I and Firefighter II and EMT before you’re hired.
"What we were finding is that within that residency requirement that we had, our applicant pool was not what we were hoping it would be. We didn’t find any other feasible way to increase that pool, especially since there’s not being anymore people being generated out of that program.
“For our full time staff we increased that residency requirement to a larger area. We are going to do a few ‘out of district’ part-time personnel. We are primarily targeting people that have previous experience with our department that have moved outside of those boundaries.
"We can train them back up quickly to help us cover sick time, vacation time and things like that for our full time members. We will still have our part time crews that will still be maintained within a tighter radius of the city to make sure that we have those adequate numbers of responders within a reasonable amount of time.”
Mecey stressed that another issue with response times is the increasing use of mutual aid with other fire departments. All fire departments are struggling with less manpower than in the past and the strain is taking its toll.
“Nationally we are seeing that constant reductions in volunteers,” he said. “Because of that we are finding that we used to have a single department or two departments would have plenty of manpower and apparatus to handle a fire.
"Standards have also changed. We are up in the numbers now of standards that in eight minutes they would like us to have 22 personnel on the scene of house fires. That’s impossible to accomplish.
We’re lucky sometimes if we’ve gone two or three alarms in some fires before we are getting that many people at a house fire. So, what is happening, as the manpower continues to get smaller regionally, we continue to see more and more mutual aid to get that same amount of manpower to handle that same fire that we used to handle with less departments.”
According to Mecey, today’s workplace demands also hamper the usage of part-time and volunteer firefighters that can respond to calls.
“Thirty to 40 years ago — if there was a fire in Farmington — about anybody that was on the department, their employer would let them go and fight the fire,” he said. “Times have changed. There are some employers that will do that, but for the majority that doesn’t happen anymore. Overall daytime is really shallow. Things get better until 1-2 in the morning, then people have trouble going to a fire and being home in time to report to their normal job.”
Mecey acknowledges the challenges of trying to expand his department to keep up with the rapid expansion of the city of Farmington.
“We are in that place of it’s a small town turning into a big town,” he said. “During the daytime hours during the week, our population is swelling during the day significantly. Because of this, we end up with more medical calls, more car accidents and more general assist calls.
“We have no separate funding mechanism for public safety in Farmington. Everything comes out of general revenue. I approach it as a realist. I want to get everything I can get for my department. Fire departments are extremely expensive to the community because they are driven by people and equipment.
"Both are expensive. Everything we look at is how can we do more with less. We see ourselves against departments that have 30-40 plus full-time members who are running a third of the calls that we are. Most of those places some time back have set up a funding mechanism to fund that operation. We don’t want to hog all the money and then not be able to do parks and good streets, etc.”