Rising fuel costs are expected to hit everyone hard, but the Bartow County Fire Department is taking steps to ensure that coverage is not affected by the increase.
For 2012, the budget for the county fire department — which is comprised of 13 stations with full and part-time employees and one volunteer station — is set at $6,843,000. That is a decrease of $28,400 from the previous year.
After taking salary payments from the budget — which amounts to $4,140,000 and 88 percent of the total divided between 123 part and full-time employees including administration — Fire Chief Craig Millsap is left with 12 percent of the awarded funds to operate the department for the year.
“You look at what our needs are and you try to accomplish the greatest goals and you prioritize,” Millsap said on how he works to efficiently control the department. “The first thing we look at is safety, not only safety of the general public in order for us to do our job but the safety of my people to do their jobs. Those are the areas you don’t ever scrimp on.
“When it comes to things like our breathing apparatus or our turnout gear, those sort of things where you’re putting people in a hostile environment when the rats or roaches are running out and they’re going in, you don’t cut cost there. You don’t try to stretch an extra year out of a turnout coat.”
Although salaries make up the greatest portion of the budget, some employees are taking furlough days or finding other ways to match fellow county departments with their cuts.
“In order to prevent the way furloughs would affect the shift people, all of the administrative people with the normal average workweek, such as myself, [my administrative assistant and shift supervisors], do take furloughs same as the rest of our county employees,” Millsap said. “My firefighters, in order to contribute to the same cause that the rest of the county is, they don’t take furlough days per se, but they gave back their paid county holidays. So, you’re working on one of those paid county holidays that you used to would have gotten additional pay for. It’s just like working a Tuesday in July. There’s no difference for them. Those days were given back to match up for the same amount the county employees lose by taking furloughs.
“That’s the way we figured we could do it the best way in that and still not jeopardize the coverage because you’ve got to have the people to put in the fire trucks because fires and medical emergencies things like that don’t understand furloughs.”
While the fire department is generally known for purpose of extinguishing fires, an array of services is provided that are not limited to fire-related responsibilities.
“Medical calls make up the bulk [of what we do,]” Millsap said. “I don’t think people understand as many specialty things that we’re involved in. I think public perception is still that we come in and watch television unless a fire call comes in and that’s the furthest from the truth.
“We’re constantly training, we’re constantly improving equipment, constantly expanding on things. We have our hazardous materials team, we have our wildland firefighting team, we have a host of these specialty teams that we’re in joint with the city of Cartersville on, which ends up being beneficial to the citizens because they’re getting something that would cost a whole lot of money, but at least that’s being offset by splitting it between other departments.”
Along with working alongside the Cartersville Fire Department, BCFD also partners with other state specialty teams and the local Emergency Management Agency.
“We are part of the Georgia Search and Rescue Task Force 6,” Millsap said. “That gives a whole bunch of capabilities to us here in Bartow County that we would not have if we were relying on ourselves to do it. We have the trench rescue, building collapse rescue all of that to make up that team at our disposal. There’s millions of dollars worth of equipment that isn’t costing us a dime other than the training of the personnel willing to go assist someone else with that team when they need it.”
Coinciding with the specialty calls, Millsap noted that today’s firefighters must be more well-rounded people than in the past. This fact accounts for the $13,000 budgeted for dues and fees for re-certification.
“[We have] memberships into the Georgia Firefighters Association, which also allows us to get a lot of different training opportunities here as well,” Millsap said. “It allows us to help shape the way the fire service goes. The other is standard fees for re-certification fees like EMS certification, firefighter certifications, all of that comes out of there.
“The education has tremendously gone up,” Millsap continued. “We’re seeing college degrees in firefighting, which was unheard of years ago. You’ve got to have a working knowledge of chemistry and physics and all of that to be a firefighter these days. We don’t just need a body who can put wet stuff on red stuff. You’ve got to be able to really do all of it or you really don’t belong in this business. Medical calls make up the bulk of the calls and unless you’re prepared to go down that route then you need to look for something else to do.”
Firefighter education and training has $18,000 set aside in the budget, which is utilized by working with nearby agencies at their training centers as well as the center within Bartow County, allowing BCFD and CFD to host classes.
“With the training center being open joint with the city of Cartersville, we’re able to do a lot of training that we used to have to send people [away] for here,” Millsap said. “We’re able to pick up a lot of that training for free if we host classes here and open it up for departments from the area to have it in there. In the same respect, if they’re holding classes in Dalton or somewhere else, we’re being invited to those. So, now, instead of having to send people down to the state facility, we’re able to keep it a lot [more] local and that’s saving a lot of people money.”
When classes are held locally, Millsap said that many of the textbooks required for education purposes are not provided, accounting for a $1,000 addition to the budget for printing and binding when textbooks must be created.
General supplies makes up $175,000 of the budget and includes a variety of necessities.
“General supplies is everything we use on a day-to-day basis, anything from stuff we have to buy. A gasket and section strainer for one of the trucks, paint for part of our hydrant maintenance [all] falls under that same thing. Wood to build a simulated fire prop came out of that. Anything that you can think of that would fall under day-to-day operations for the fire department [falls under general supplies.]”
Uniforms, while budgeted for $75,000, are not always upgraded every year.
“We don’t need uniforms every year,” Millsap said. “We are able to keep that cost down a lot. Our firefighters get [a certain] amount of uniforms when they come to work for us. They’re able to add to that every year, but as you’ve been here a while you can’t just come up and say, ‘I need three new uniforms.’ We actually look at your uniforms and see what needs to be replaced, what has become a safety issue and then we replace only what’s needed from there.
“That goes to the boots they wear every day and everything in [the uniform] that is justified. Our uniforms are part of our safety protection. The uniforms that my firefighters wear are made out of a material called Nomex — which is a fire-resistant material — so it is an initial barrier of fire protection for them that they wear under their turnout gear when they go into those fires. It’s a safety thing for them like the rest of the stuff they wear.”
In the past, the department has received grants for such things like the fire safety house used for fire prevention education purposes in the community as well as boats to be used in conjunction with the EMA dive team.
“We do have one we were approved for [for this year that is] an assistance firefighter grant that we will be able to get,” Millsap said. “The grant itself was for a rescue-type fire boat, a smaller one that we would be able to access river stuff as well as the lake to expand our coverage areas into the shallower parts of Lake Allatoona. It actually goes with one of the boats we already have to where they can be used and hook together to make a platform.
“It’s [got] a lot of good capabilities that can expand especially on the north end of the lake. We got the grant last year where we were able to get our big fire boat and it definitely is one of those you hope you never have to use, but having that capability is great. If you look back through the historic part on Allatoona where we’ve had our calls, and we’ve had multi-million dollar losses there, that the boat could have definitely helped with [those losses.]”
Under general supplies, gasoline costs claim a chunk of $140,000. All fire trucks run on diesel fuel and other vehicles, such as EMA transportation and smaller trucks, run on regular gasoline.
“That’s something we really experienced last year because it was like a $1.50 more a gallon in diesel fuel [and our budget was] going off the numbers from the two years before that and we didn’t necessarily plan for [the increase,]” Millsap said. “That ended up definitely hitting us hard. I think is a misconception that people have and they don’t realize with it. We don’t drive the trucks a whole lot, but the same fire truck that pumps water to your house runs off that same motor that turns the wheels. We just change it into pump gear and that motor actually powerizes the fire pump that pumps the water.
“So, if you need more water, you have to up the throttle, which is the same as upping the gas,” Millsap continued. “Even though the truck is sitting there, it could be burning more fuel than if it was riding down the road. That’s where the wear and tear comes in. Those prices, when you start seeing the jump at the pump like what we’re seeing again now, that directly correlates to our budgetary expenses and if that money gets eat up on fuel costs then there’s other areas where we have try to make it back up.”
EMA feels cuts
Bartow’s Emergency Management Agency, like most departments, has seen a $61,700 decrease since last year. While the department held an active role in 2011 following the April 27 tornado that ripped through the county, Director Johnny Payne and his single employee are working to keep the department strong.
“The EMA is more or less like a coordinator between the county and state and federal departments,” Payne said. “In other words, everything goes through me — like disasters — and I’m required to have different plans.”
The largest amount for the EMA budget, $90,000, falls under employee salary, including holidays, sick time and overtime, which the department tends to battle with during natural disasters.
While $30,000 is designated for general supplies, EMA Administrative Assistant CrisAnn Brown said the figure represents supplies such as HAZMAT suits and other equipment pieces necessary for emergency response as used by firefighters and sheriff’s deputies as well as the dive team.
The remainder of the EMA’s budget is divided between general departmental operations for building utilities and repair and maintenance cost — at $50,000 — for existing equipment. Telephone expenses are budgeted for $20,000 as the department must maintain communications with state and federal agencies in the event of a disaster.
“Everything else we do is HAZMAT,” Payne said.
In regard to HAZMAT, Millsap recognized the importance of having up-to-date equipment and suits.
“Technology always changes,” Millsap said. “We have had committees that look at all the things we buy and keep up with it to see if there’s anything better coming out or yes this is cheaper. The reason we can’t change from this is it’s having this or that problem. So, it’s trying to keep up with that and save money where you can but you don’t want to cut your nose off to spite your face by ordering some cheaper equipment.
“You never know what’s in [a HAZMAT situation,]” Millsap continued. “We pull up and do our size-up, but you always train and prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”