Laila Powers: Low-lying fruit
January 7, 2012
To Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District and city of Steamboat Springs residents:
On Tuesday night the City Council was presented with the results of a study it commissioned through City Manager Jon Roberts' office. The report was submitted by a representative from the consulting firm and covered a wide array of topics and recommendations without taking into consideration the "human side" of the equation — our professional EMS staff.
As council member Sonja Macys said, "Aren't we talking about the low-lying fruit here?" Her comment was in reference to a long discussion between council members and the consultant regarding a method of achieving cost savings by reducing the full-time firefighting and EMS staff with part-time workers and a reduction in overall force hours … all to obtain a potential 9 percent savings.
As a medical doctor of 21 years, a Yampa Valley Medical Center Emergency Department physician and the Routt County EMS medical director for the past five years, I oversee six agencies, all medical transports and services rendered in the field and work with all of our agencies to ensure that protocols and procedures are current. I've also grown to know our EMT basics, EMT intermediates and paramedics along with their chiefs. I can say with confidence that our EMS staffs here in Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs are extraordinary. Their dedication to training, continued education, performance and sacrifice is in keeping with the highest standards of emergency medical services provided anywhere in the country.
It was in gross error to conduct a study such as the one that was presented to the City Council without having considered the impacts on our human resources. The very fact that recommendations were made without the consult of our city's human resource department was, in my opinion, a major oversight.
To our City Council's credit, it voted in favor of tabling any action on the recommendations and instead is seeking more input and evaluation for its Feb. 7 meeting. I encourage all to attend that meeting. Hear firsthand how much our professional fire and rescue workers are compensated in comparison to other communities, and listen to views expressed by our rural fire district board of directors and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth. It should come as no surprise that our volunteer-turned-professional staff of EMS/fire professionals here in Steamboat Springs receive 12 to 35 percent less pay then their counterparts in other mountain communities. The same is true of our less then half a dozen full-time professionals we have serving our community in the county.
During these difficult economic times it is imperative that everything is done to achieve maximum efficiencies, but I suggest to this community that any form of downgrading of force structure within our fire/EMS departments — when faced with a workforce that is already working at sub-industry standard wages — should be viewed as a very last resort. We cannot afford to lose these precious gems that have been cultivated throughout the years by knee-jerking for a 9 percent savings in the overall budget via the harvesting and subsequent disposal of "low-lying fruit."
MD of emergency medicine and director of Routt County EMS