Fire Department – Reduce Fire Apparatus Staffing to Four Persons

Savings: $57 million

The City’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the firefighters’ union, which expires June 30, 2012, requires the City to staff at least five firefighters on most fire suppression apparatuses, which include the City’s fire engines, fire trucks, squad companies, and hazmat units.[1]  The bargaining agreement allows the City to have up to 35 “variances” from this manning requirement per day, increased from 30 in the previous contract.[2]  According to the CBA, a “variance” permits the City to staff a fire apparatus with four instead of five firefighters.   The table below details the number of apparatuses by type and the minimum staffing levels required for each of them.

Apparatus

Number of Apparatus

Minimum Staffing per Apparatus

Fire Engine

96

5

Fire Truck

61

5

Squad Companies

4

5

Hazmat

2

5

Sources: CFD data, Collective Bargaining Agreement

Under this option, the City would reduce the minimum number of required fire personnel on fire suppression apparatuses to four.  This would mean a large reduction in the number of personnel needed to staff fire apparatuses.  The table below compares the number of employee-hours required to maintain a staffing minimums of four and five on the apparatuses listed above.

Apparatus

Number

Total annual employee-hours w/ minimum staffing of 5

Total annual employee -hours w/ minimum staffing of 4

Fire Engine

96

4,204,800

3,363,840

Fire Truck

61

2,671,800

2,137,440

Squad Companies

4

175,200

140,160

Hazmat

2

87,600

70,080

Reduction in Hours due to variances

(306,600)

Total

 

6,832,800

5,711,520

 

 

 

 

Note: To calculate the number of annual employee-hours, multiply (number of apparatuses) by (minimum staffing requirement) by (number of days in year) by (number of hours in day).

For example, for the 96 fire engines with a minimum staff of five the calculation is: (96) X (5) X (365) X (24)=4,161,000

This chart assumes that the 35 daily variances are currently being fully used by the City and that no variances would be granted if manning requirement were reduced to four.

Thus, reducing the minimum staffing to four on these 163 apparatuses would reduce the number of annual employee – hours necessary to staff these vehicles by approximately 1.12 million.  Assuming that the average firefighter working in fire suppression and rescue works 2,048 hours a year,[3] this reduction would allow the City to reduce the firefighter staffing by 547 employees.[4]  Currently, the average annual compensation of a firefighter is approximately $103,500[5] (including fringe benefits). This figure does not include any additional compensation resulting from overtime pay, uniform allowances, duty availability pay, and holiday premium pay. However, this compensation will increase in 2012 by 1% per the CBA.  The terms of the CBA would increase the average compensation for a firefighter (including fringe benefits) by $1,000 to approximately $104,500 in 2012.[6] Thus, the elimination of 547 firefighter positions would save the City approximately $57 million in 2012.

Implementing this option would require a modification to the current collective bargaining agreement, which is in effect until June 30, 2012.

Proponents might argue that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends a minimum of only four personnel on each fire apparatus.[7] Thus, if the City were to reduce staffing on its engine and truck companies to four, it would be meeting the recommended guidelines. Additionally, others would argue that Chicago averages a smaller number of structure fires than the national average (77 per 100,000 people in Chicago compared to 157 per 100,000 people nationally).[8] Therefore, it is not necessary for the City to continue to staff its fire apparatuses at a level 20 percent above the nationally recommended minimum.  Further, the existence of variances from the manning requirement in the current contract indicate that requiring five employees on an apparatus at all times is not always necessary.

 

Opponents might argue that a large scale reduction in the number of firefighters would pose a hazard to public safety and endanger firefighters themselves.   The NFPA makes it clear that the staffing standard of only four firefighters “is currently based on a fire in a typical single-family, two-story, 2,000-square-foot house without basement or exposures.” The NFPA also states that in areas with “high target hazards” such as large manufacturing districts, skyscrapers, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and special needs facilities there should be a minimum of five firefighters, and in some cases, even six.  This High Target Hazard designation applies to virtually all of Chicago’s 50 wards.[9]  A reduction in the number of personnel on each apparatus could hamper the ability of the Fire Department to contain fires, thus increasing the severity of fires and demand for additional firefighters. Others might argue that regardless of the trends in the number of fires, the City must retain a reserve fire fighting force in the event of a major fire incident.

 

Discussion and Additional Questions

As pointed out by the Fire Fighters union in response to the publication of this budget option last year, a key consideration in determining appropriate staffing level for fire apparatuses is to consider the different types of hazards faced in different parts of the City.  Some questions to consider:

  • Is it appropriate to have the same staffing on apparatuses in the Loop as in neighborhoods largely comprised of single-family homes?
  • What parts of the City fall into the high hazard category described in the “opponents might argue” section?
  • Whether the same manning requirement should be in place for both fire engines and fire trucks?

Additionally, an important consideration is the relationship between overall firefighter staffing and the number of fire deaths, the number of fires, and the damage caused by fires.  The number of structure fires has declined as the number of firefighters has remained constant.[10]  Similarly, the number of fire deaths in the City has decreased from an average of 120 per year in the early 1990s to an average of 30 per year in the last few years.[11]

One interpretation of this data is that there is less demand for firefighters because the number of fires and deaths from fires is decreasing.  An alternative interpretation is that the stable number of firefighters has contributed to a decline in the number of fires and the deaths from fires.

Budget Details

Dept: Fire Department, 59 Bureau: NA
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salaries and Wages – On Payroll, 0005
The appropriation is located on pages 185 and the position schedule beings on page 189 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.

http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/obm/supp_info/2011BudgetOrdinance.pdf

 


[1] City of Chicago. “Labor Contract between Chicago Fire Fighters Union, Local #2, International Association of Fire Fighters A.F.L.-C.I.O. – C.L.C. and the City of Chicago, Illinois. July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2012.” pg. 67.

http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dol/Collective%20Bargaining%20Agreements/CFFULocal2_07_012.pdf

[2] Id. pg. 72.

[3] Most firefighters working on fire apparatuses are on platoon duty, which means they work 24-hour shifts. The normal platoon schedule has firefighters work four 24-hour shifts in a 15-day period. This translates to 97.33 24-hour shifts per year. However, each firefighter is given twelve 24-hour vacation days per year. Thus, each firefighter works 85.33 days per year assuming no additional time off due to illness. 85.33 multiplied by 24 equals 2,048 hours per year per firefighter.

[4] We rounded this number down to the nearest whole number.

[5] According to the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance, there were 2,531 firefighter positions (not including Fire Engineers, Lieutenants, Captions, Battalion Chiefs, etc.) in fire suppression with combined budgeted salaries of $183,041,130. This equals an average salary of $72,320. In addition to salary, firefighters receive pension and health insurance benefits. The Mayor’s Office of Budget and Management has estimated the cost of these benefits for police officers to be 43% of salary. If we assume that firefighters’ benefits cost approximately the same given the similarities in their pensions, then the average benefit cost for each firefighter is $31,097. Thus, the average total compensation for one firefighter in fire suppression is $103,417.

[6] The contract wage increase for firefighters is 1% in January 2012.

[7] Nadile, Lisa. “Codes and Standards Spotlight: NFPA Journal Interviews Carl Peterson about NFPA 1710.” National Fire Protection Association Journal. May 2008.

http://www.nfpa.org/journalDetail.asp?categoryID=1344&itemID=38833&src=NFPAJournal&rss=codes&cookie_test=1

[8] Karter Jr., Michael J. “Fire Loss in the United States during 2009.” National Fire Protection Association- Fire Analysis and Research Division. pg. i. 480,500 structure fires. Total U.S. population 305,529,237.

City of Chicago. “2011 Program and Budget Summary.”  2066 structure fires in 2009.

U.S. Census Total Chicago Population 2,695,598.

[9] Letter from Tom Ryan, President. Chicago Fire Fighter Union, Local 2. August 8, 2011.

http://firegeezer.com/2011/08/08/local-2-to-i-g-butt-out/

[10] Mihalopoulos, Dan and Liplin, Michael. “In Tough Times, Fire Department Untouched.” May 13, 2011.

http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/in-tough-times-fire-department-untouched-2/

[11] Mihalopoulos, Dan and Liplin, Michael. “In Tough Times, Fire Department Untouched.” May 13, 2011.

http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/in-tough-times-fire-department-untouched-2/