The Firefighter Dilemma

They’re big, strong, well trained and the ladies love them. Fire Departments across the world are well known and loved by the population because of the job they do. City administration on the other hand is starting to fall out of love with the fire department along with the other emergency services. It costs roughly 200 dollars a month to own a home in Thunder Bay. The money is spread throughout many different sectors and programs that the city offers. The money is used to repave streets, fix potholes and replace the broken bench at the park. The largest portion of your monthly bill goes to emergency services (65 dollars monthly). This works out to an annual basis of 33% of annual tax bill headed to police, fire and EMS. Now, these 3 services are all incredibly important and necessary but annual increases are forcing cities to cut in other areas to service these. Mainly due to wage increases and OT the price of policing, providing fire services and medical support continue to go up. One would think that the increase in wages is due to an increase in the work loads that these services provide. That assumption is sort of true and this is where the dilemma comes in.

Thunder Bay Fire and Rescue’s budget is roughly 25 million dollars which is an increase of 0.9% or 223,100 from last year. Thunder Bay Fire and Rescue responded to 7577 calls in 2010 (latest numbers available) or roughly $3300 per attended call. Their call rate increased from 2009 by almost 700 calls but 500 of those calls were medical in which EMS and Police would have responded as well. Calls attended (minus medical) were 3538 in 2010 which include 446 calls were they assisted or were cancelled on the way to the call. That increases the cost per call to $7066 dollars per response by a truck and its crew. Looking at the annual responses by the Fire Department since 2001 the biggest jump in calls has been medical. Of which they provide first response and basic medical attention. Fire costs in Thunder Bay are more expensive then other cities because of the sure size and layout of the city. Merging 2 into 1 and then have the population stagnate is one reason that costs are much higher then communities with similar populations. Just recently the fire department was given parity with local police officers which means a 6 million dollar cost increase over the contract (ending in 2014). That would push Thunder Bay fire to 31 million dollars annually in annual costs come 2014. So we have determined that the cost of operating a fire department in Thunder Bay is extremely expensive and that calls have remained relatively stable. This is the point where I believe we need to look at cutting costs within the Fire Department and transferring the costs to other organizations. Reducing the number of positions within Thunder Bay Fire will be the easiest way to reduce costs without affecting Fire response too much. Thunder Bay Fire has 210 members which is roughly the same as Thunder Bay Police currently have. So if we were to cut from Fire where should it go.

An increased budget should be given to Thunder Bay Police and Superior North EMS. This would allow them to hire more staff and deal with the crushing workload they are facing.

EMS responds to 25,000 calls a year with 190 front line staff. Their budget was 7.3 million dollars from the City of Thunder Bay (more from outlying communities) which increased 8.4% or $568,100. I was unable to find information on the level of calls from the same period as Thunder Bay Fire provided. I was able to find their future growth in calls and they believe it to be staggering. Superior North EMS calls the next 10 years the ‘age tsunami’ as many in Thunder Bay grow beyond the 65+ range and become “super-users” of EMS resources. The call volumes of 911 calls are expected to rise substantially while their resources continue to be stretched by a slow turn around rate at the hospital, and aging population and burn out by paramedics. If we were to reduce the costs associated with Thunder Bay Fire I believe that this is where a majority of the money should be spent. Thunder Bay’s population is aging and the resources are being stretched to their limit. If we don’t provide the service with an adequate amount of money it will break and fall apart. This service is expecting major jump in call volume while the Fire department is seeing a steady volume of calls. We can trim at the fire service in order to provide the necessary tools where they are needed the most. Superior North EMS average cost per call is $292 dollars per call which is much lower then the $3300 it costs for the Fire Department. Many of the calls they both respond too with EMS taking over and providing more extensive medical services. There is an opportunity to provide better medical care by giving paramedics the money they need to deal with the upcoming ‘age tsunami’.

Thunder Bay Police are struggling to meet the demand that the social issues of Thunder Bay are bringing on the community. More and more Thunder Bay Police are being called to deal with people who are intoxicated in a public place. The addictions issue in Thunder Bay is crushing Police, EMS and hospital resources as they deal with these people. Thunder Bay has one of the highest custody rates for a public intoxication charge then anywhere in the province. Per 100,000 people Thunder Bay Police dealt with 5,695 calls where Toronto Police only dealt with 792. Call volumes have remained relatively the same since 2006 being just north of 50,000 a year. Reportable crimes have increased though since 2006 crossing the 26,000 mark annually. Thunder Bay Police’s annual budget is 35.2 million dollars of which a majority like all departments is wages. Average cost per call is $704 when dealing with the 50,000 + calls to Thunder Bay Police or $1353 when dealing with a reportable call. Murders and domestics have been an increased issue for Thunder Bay Police to deal with above everything else. Since 2010 there have been 15 murders in Thunder Bay of which 13 have had someone charged as a result of their murder. Murders are a huge resource drain on police forces as many officers are involved in the investigation of the scene and after work. It also ties up many officers time as a result for court purposes. Domestics are another issue plaguing Thunder Bay of which many are a result of the social issues facing the city. Thunder Bay Police investigated 1,104 cases in 2004 and that number has jumped to 2,218 in 6 years. Domestics on average can take an officer off the road for 6-8 hours (almost a full shift) and have gotten so bad that Thunder Bay Police have dedicated a unit to deal with domestics now. These numbers are expected to increase as the social problems in this city continue to get worse. Talking to a Thunder Bay Police officer he said “Things are only getting worse, this year is the busiest I have ever been but I say that every year. There are more calls and we have less officers on the road” – 7 year veteran of Thunder Bay Police.

This blog post is not meant to say that Thunder Bay Fire doesn’t do a good job or doesn’t deserve the wages they earn. If a perfect world we could keep paying them that and hire on more to make their jobs easier but this is not a perfect world. We need to make the tough decisions in order to have a strong emergency service in the future. We need to use the stats to make the proper decisions and the tough ones. Thunder Bay fire’s calls are likely to remain stable which means there is room to cut and save some money for other departments whose calls are increasing. I thank all of the emergency services for the job that they do and am glad that there are people willing to do those jobs. We need to make the tough decisions and cut where we can to provide for those who need it. With an aging population and the expectation that the population will drop there comes a time when the money wont be there and cuts will be much more severe then if we do it now.

I would like to know the thoughts of any emergency responders on this topic. Whats it like in your city? Whats your city doing about it. Thunder Bay Fire/EMS and Police what are your thoughts on this topic.

References:

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/Living/Fire+$!26+Rescue+Services/docs/2012-2016+Strategic+Master+Fire+Plan.pdf -> Page 12 table 4
http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Finance+$!26+Budgets/docs/Budget+2013/2013+Tax+Supported+Community.pdf -> Page 4-2 and 4-3
http://www.tbnewswatch.com/news/290757/Parity-problems
http://www.superiornorthems.com/Assets/Superior+North+EMS/docs/Superior+North+EMS+Strategic+Plan+2013-2017.pdf
http://www.tbnewswatch.com/news/221391/Rising-domestics
http://www.thunderbaypolice.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/Business%2BPlan%2B2012%2Bto%2B2014.pdf -> page 9,12 and 13
http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Finance+$!26+Budgets/docs/Budget+2013/2013+Tax+Supported+Outside+Boards.pdf -> page 9-6 to 9-11

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Go to the heart

The province is looking at new ways to get the money that it it owed. In the province of Ontario more then $669 million dollars is outstanding from Highway Traffic tickets alone. Normally, these fines are added to a renewal of a drivers license. When a person tries to renew the license after their current one expires the fines are added to the cost. The issue that the province is finding with this system is that people simply don’t renew their license. They continue to drive around on their old one avoiding the police as much as possible and also renewing their license.  The provinces new plan to add the fee’s to the license plate renewals should force drivers to pay up if they have a ticket. Thunder Bay Police board members feel that it should bring in more cash for the city as more payments roll in. The issue becomes that drivers who have avoided renewing their drivers license for the same reasons will avoid other things. Unless the police are allowed to remove plates completely from vehicles who haven’t paid up drivers will continue their daily routine. There needs to be a more severe form of punishment for those who continue to break the law and do so willingly. I have a couple changes in mind that I believe could help to get the province and the city its money.

A) Garnish wages: While this should likely be a last resort for the province when trying to get its money back. People who reach a certain threshold of money owed should have it collected through a wage garnishment. Drunk drivers can consistently come out of court with $7000-$8000 dollars worth of fines after just a first offense. Typically, people who have been drinking and driving are doing so also with a suspended license, and no proof of insurance. A level of $60,000 could be considered just and fair for an individual to be considered for wage garnishment. While this move could be viewed as detrimental to the persons ability to provide an income for themselves or others. The lack of compassion for the other drivers of the road should provide enough justification for the move. An amount collected could be determined based on the income, geographical area of the individual. This service allows the province and the city to recoop some of the most spent on enforcement, and incarceration.

B) Website portraying the person based on the amount of fine uncollected could be another push for them to pay up. It could be broken down regionally and show off a host of different information about the person including the breakdown of fines. This website could provide a deterrence for people who may only have a couple outstanding fines to avoid having their name in the spotlight. It could also provide awareness to drivers about the actual number of people who are driving without insurance/ under the influence. The website could also serve as a teaching tool for students and young people who have one of the highest death behind the wheel rates. While I’m not for embarrassing people when they make a mistake; to get yourself on this website would take occurrence after occurrence.

C) Community Work: If a person has multiple charges and the fines are racking up then he likely will be in jail. He could be in jail as an intermittent inmate or a full time inmate. In order to reduce the amount that this person’s cost to the system he could be provided to volunteer his time at a center like the shelter house or halfway house as repayment. He could be an inmate every second weekend with the other weekend being spent doing community work (sleeping at the jail). This service to the community could be used as a form of repayment for his debts if he is unable to repay those debts.

We need to get to the root cause of why these people aren’t paying their debt. If it is pure laziness or due to financial hardships. We need to do something different then what we are doing now because it simply isn’t working for the system or the people.

Missed Opportunity for Police

Its widely known that Thunder Bay Police and the First Nations population in the city have a rough, if not shattered relationship. The accusations and mistrust of police force members is causing major rifts to open in the city. This relationship has also taken a beating with non-aboriginal members of the community as people take a second look at the cruiser as it drives by. We shouldn’t be afraid of police, they sign up to serve and protect the community and its members. From drug dealers to millionaires, we all need protection sometimes and they sign up to provide that. It would be hoped that a bad apple could be weeded out by the people who come in to work everyday and risk their lives to keep the peace. Thunder Bay police are going to need to get back to basics when it comes to building the relationships with people. Getting back into the community not to arrest or enforce the law but to say hi and learn about people’s struggles. They are going to have to look back at what worked and try to bring those into the 21st century.

When I was young I remember attending the Teddy Bear Picnic one summer afternoon. As a kid I was enjoying running around, eating ice cream and not having a car in the world. Going from stall to stall seeing what was going on and picking up free things as I went along. I remember that there was a huge lineup of kids waiting to get in and see the inside of the police car that was being shown off. 2 giant (remember i was like 7) officers were picking up kids and putting them in the front seat. They were showing the kids how everything worked and where all the stuff was. Naturally of course, every kid wanted to figure out how to turn on the sirens and make the lights flash colours. I remember having this officer show me around the car and explain to me how everything worked. He would go through so carefully to make sure that I got an idea of what it did. I remember thinking how cool it was to sit in the front of a police car and thinking “i want to be a police man”. Things like this which are so simple but yet have a lasting impression on someone. Kids don’t (at least shouldn’t) realize the things that go on in the adult world and this is a starting point for building a positive relationship with the police.

Thunder Bay Police should have had a stand at the Family Day events to show off what they do and give the kids that same feeling that I had when I was young. Connecting with the community of all races and colours to start rebuilding that relationship they once had. The Aboriginal Liaison unit would have been perfect to have down there to show people that there is someone they can go too. Making this unit and its officers better known to give people a place where they can go to police and not feel scared. While its great that Thunder Bay Police will be getting a twitter account, a facebook account and other social media they still need to get out into the community and meet face to face. They need to humanize the force for so many has become a brick and mortar organization. There are many officers who serve with the Thunder Bay Police who go day in and day out without any incidents and do their jobs professionally. Like any organization or group there is always 1 or 2 who ruin it for the rest of them. Kind of like gum in schools :p

I emailed Joe Virdiramo asking if Thunder Bay Police would be attending any community events and his thoughts on having them attend more and will post the response below when I receive one.

Thunder Bay Police’s new toys

Thunder Bay Police have a new toy to play with when it comes to the daily operation of their duties. 2 new vehicles are roaming the streets and it might cause motorists to look twice. In 2011, Ford rolled the last Crown Victoria off of its St. Catherine’s factory line. A car which had been the mainstay of police forces across the world was now dead. The market had been dominated by the rugged Crown Vic which was well known by police and speeders for its iconic design but was now open for competition. Car companies big and small jumped on the opportunity for their car to become the workhorse of police forces. Dodge offered the Dodge Charger and Challenger, Chevy offered the Suburban and a redesigned caprice from Australia and Ford offered the redesigned Taurus and redesigned Explorer. It seems that Thunder Bay Police and the OPP are sticking with the blue oval as their police cars of the future. Roaming the streets of Thunder Bay are a brand now 2013 Ford Explorer and 2013 Ford Taurus Interceptor. So lets take a look and see what makes these cars tick.

Ford Explorer

2013 Ford Explorer – 3.7L V6 – 300+ HP – Front Wheel or All Wheel Drive – 220 Amp Alternator – Heavy Duty Cooling – Heavy Duty Breaking – Cost Unknown.

 

Ford Taurus

2013 Ford Taurus – 3.5L V6 or a 3.5L Ecoboost V6 – 304 HP (standard) or 365 HP (EcoBoost) – All Wheel or Front Wheel Drive – 115 HP more with the Ecoboost then the Crown Vic’s V8 – 20% better fuel economy then the 2011 Crown Vic (both engines) – 18 inch tires – Cost Unknown.

Watch out Thunder Bay drivers. You probably wont recognize these cars in your rear view mirror until they turn on the lights.

 

Integrity of the police service shaken

A police officer was charged under the police services act of lying to superiors. He created paperwork to try and help his cause along to get promoted. Unfortunately for him, he was found out and caused a 2 year cat and mouse game with the police board.

He was recent found guilty and sentenced to a demotion in rank from Sargent to 1st class constable. This was to be put in place for a year in which he would be returned to Sargent. In the 2 years of cat and mouse games, he was paid his regular salary and all the other perks of the job. Even though he didn’t set foot in a police cruiser or the police headquarters in a year. This is a perk given to all officers while they are being investigated by SUI, police services act or criminal court and the money stays even if the person is found guilty. Personally, I believe that if found guilty they should be forced to pay the money back because those are taxpayers dollars.

In my mind having this officer return to active duty is something that should not happen. He has showed that he is willing to lie to fellow officers and superiors. In doing so he has also lied to the general public and tried there patience and trust. Having him return to duty with the cloud hanging over his head would not be good for him, the police force or the public. If they allow him to return it makes it seem like the police force is willing to accept liars, cheats and people who are willing to delay simply for money. The police service is above that and its reputation could be severely damaged by this. Myself along with many in the public hold the police and all people in positions of power to a higher level because of those powers.

Not only is it bad for the public but its also bad for his fellow officers. I’m sure many are thinking today and wondering if they have been cheated by him for something. As a police force you need to have each others back 100% and any doubt is a chink in the chain that leads to injuries and deaths. Its not fair to fellow officers to have someone disloyal to the cause and procedures.

While I have no knowledge of the man himself which is a important factor or how he has conducted himself in the past. It would likely be in his and the forces best interest to come to fork in the road and go different ways. Based on the news and what I know about the situation, I wouldn’t support the police service bringing him back.

More jobs then anyone ever dreamed

In Thunder Bay the mining sector is going to be huge. Its expected that 55,000 jobs could be available in the peak mining times but there will also be a huge opening for jobs in the next 5-10 years. The trades are an industry that is controlled by people born in the baby boom age. These people have been building, paving fixing and more for years but they knew it was hard work and have pushed there kids to achieve more. The problem is now the kids have and there seems to be no one ready to work the jobs that are critical to even have this jobs. In grade 10 we had a company come in and say that there would be over a 2 million jobs (across Canada) that were trades related and they would be opening up. Well that was 3-4 years ago, the jobs have opened up slower then expected but people are still retiring.

In Thunder Bay a big portion of the local economy is construction related this includes all the trades into one and they have been so busy that companies from outside the region have come to do jobs they couldn’t. The 4 laning and interchange are being done by companies from outside with local help, the expressway, the courthouse and more. The problem is now with governments spending money on roads and updating their infrastructure, the builders are starting to retire. We need to find a way to get kids interested and get people who don’t want to be in college/university trained to be building the skyscrapers of the future.

This could be a great opportunity to employ many of the homeless or undereducated to bring them back into society and help them recover. Having a agency and business that could help train and educate the trades people of tomorrow could be the biggest break to helping reduce the dependency of drugs and alcohol in our community.

Here another example of baby boomers retiring. The Thunder Bay police force is around 215 strong but the current rate of retirement is 15 a year with 5 being replaced. If the city continues to replace those people that 10 open jobs and this is expected to continue for a couple years. It could have a huge increase in the number of jobs available for people.