The Fire Fighters Contract

On January 5, the City Council approved the fire fighters contract by a 13-1 margin.  I voted to approve.  I wrote an extended explanation of my vote.

On December 21, Commissioner Pare attended a neighborhood meeting to discuss the fire fighters contract.  He provided a Letter summarizing the changes in deployment and a Power Point Presentation describing them in more detail.

The City has attempted in recent years to reduce the cost of fire fighting.  In recent years, the total cost of fire fighter salaries has varied, as noted in this chart:

Budget YearMayorFire Fighter Salaries
(July 1 – June 30)($ Million)
2010-11Cicilline/Taveras$40.6
2011-12Taveras$38.5
2012-13Taveras$39.4
2013-14Taveras$39.7
2014-15Taveras/Elorza$40.9
2015-16Elorza$42.0
2016-17*Elorza$39.7

*All figures through June 30, 2016 are actual; 2016-17 is based on budgetary projections.

In a May 21, 2015 statement, Mayor Elorza announced that changing the fire fighters’ work arrangements from 4 platoons to 3 would save the City as much as $5 million annually beginning in the 2016-17 fiscal year against a baseline of $40.3 million for Fire Department salaries in 2014-15.  The administration implemented the new shifts in August, 2015.  In the first year, the actual expenditure on salaries increased to $42.7 million.

In April, 2016, the administration released the NRN Report, which (at p. 35) concluded that Providence’s fire protection cost per capita was 20% above the average of its peers, in part because it had three times the median number of engine companies and twice the median of ladder companies.  The report (at p. 37) identified Providence’s minimum staffing level of 94 (14 for rescue, 80 for fire fighting) as a driver of the higher costs, noting that the median for peer cities was 42 for fire fighting, 12 for rescue and 54 total.

The administration’s 2016-17 budget included a salary line of $39.7 million, a savings of $600,000 from the baseline in 2014-15.  Of that amount, $5 million was designated as “contingency”, but current projections indicate it will be used to pay overtime.

In a September 14 online post, WPRI.com reported that  the City’s legal fees to date in the fire fighters dispute have exceeded $330,000.

On September 12, the City and the fire fighters reached a tentative agreement to resolve their legal disputes.  The essential components of the tentative agreement are set forth in a Term Sheet.

On October 14, the City Council’s policy research office prepared a research memo describing possible savings in ambulance services by providing alternatives for patients with non-acute needs for service.  The memo describes a nurse triage system in Louisville and Fort Worth which screens for such non-acute cases.  The memo cites a Study published in the Annals of Emergency Dispatch Research that reviews the experience in these two cities, and concludes that, on average, the cost of suitable alternative transportation for low-acuity patients can be 60% lower than the cost of an ambulance.   According to a study by EMS1.com, the program has produced savings of 28% for Louisville while still providing appropriate care for non-acute cases.

On October 18, the union and administration formalized the prior negotiations into a Tentative Agreement and Tentative Amendment, both subject to City Council approval.  The Finance Department also provided a Fiscal Note estimating the financial impact of the tentative agreement if approved.

The City Council engaged a consultant, MMA Associates, to review Fire Department staffing.  In May, MMA issued a Draft Report suggesting that it would be possible to reduce minimum manning from 94 to as low as 82 while complying with accepted service and safety standards.

On October 31, I submitted a Letter to the Finance Committee Chair noting two ways to improve the tentative agreement; namely, eliminating one ladder company and introducing a nurse triage system to deploy ambulances more efficiently.