With Anchorage Fire Department leaders saying its paramedics face burnout, the Anchorage Assembly is examining alternatives to prevent splitting up and reassigning fire and paramedic crews at stations where manpower is needed most.
“They are talking about moving ambulances from around town to cover the high need in the Midtown and Downtown areas,” said Assembly member Amy Demboski. “In an effort to make sure all residents of Anchorage get the public safety they deserve, this is a problem of a lack of staff.”
The lack of staff Demboski is talking about is the gap between the 54 paramedics AFD says it takes to properly cover the municipality and the 50 currently available.
“What happens when we don’t have 54 is we pay overtime,” said AFD Chief John Fullenwider.
Demboski’s solution is to move $400,000 from the city budget to the Anchorage Fire Department’s general fund.
Fullenwider says the hiring process could start as soon as the extra money is approved. He says the concentration of those hired will be Alaskans.
“It makes a big difference," Fullenwider said. "We hire people from Outside that come up here and it’s fine in the summertime, but sometimes in the wintertime they don’t like it so much and they end up leaving.”
But where would this $400,000 come from? The Assembly already put that amount away for the cost of a public vote on the labor law, AO37. The ordinance's future is still up in the air, as an effort to repeal the law altogether is under way; in addition, the state has said it will take care of the costs associated with a referendum.
“Now that we know there is a significant public-safety need in order to staff ambulances, I thought, 'What better way to use the money (than) to make sure that we have ambulances on the streets where they need to be?'” Demboski said.
As far as future funding, Mayor Dan Sullivan supports the idea, but said using one-time funds for salaries is risky.
“The Assembly used a bunch of one-time money at the first-quarter budget revisions, and as a result of that we have ongoing expenses going forward that were initiated with the spending of one-time money,” Sullivan said.
Demboski and Fullenwider say the money for new hires could be absorbed into AFD’s 2015 general budget. For now, both are hopeful this proposal will temporarily alleviate the workload for the city's paramedics.
A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Aug. 5.