Photos Courtesy of Palm Springs Firefighters Association
Palm Springs voters will go to the polls on Nov. 7 to vote on a controversial half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for essential services such a police and fire. The tax is expected to raise $6 million to $7 million annually, according to city leaders.
To get some inside perspective on this vote, Uken Report turned to Jeff Kelsheimer, president of the Palm Springs Professional Firefighters to answer some questions. He has answered the questions in his leadership capacity and with some inside working knowledge.
For the past 10 years, he has worked as engineer/paramedic at the Palm Springs Fire Department.
Question: The city-sponsored brochure that was mailed to Palm Springs voters says it will help improve police and fire/paramedics 911 times. What is the average response time for firefighter and paramedics now? What is an ideal response time for each?
That is a great question. Currently, we achieve a six minute response time only 56% of the time. Our Fire Department has adopted the national standard as our goal, which is to arrive within six minutes 90% of the time. It’s important to note that this includes the amount of time for call processing and turnout time for crews to get to their apparatus. I believe we should not only adopt a standard, but we our goal should be to exceed that standard.
Response times are imperative for a few reasons. First, for critical emergency medical calls, such as heart attacks, strokes or cardiac arrest, brain and tissue death can occur as soon as four minutes. For an optimal outcome, we want our paramedics to arrive prior to that, so that they can perform Advanced Life Support (ALS) as quickly as possible. We must do better. Our citizens, visitors and business owners deserve better. Palm Springs is a world-renowned city, and the services we provide should reflect its reputation.
Secondly, research has shown that structure fires today spread at least four times quicker than they did 30 years ago. This is due to modern day furnishings being made with more flammable synthetics, and engineered construction materials. This means that occupants have less time to safely exit a burning building, and our firefighters are experiencing rapidly changing fire conditions. Time is definitely not on our side.
Currently, we have five apparatus available to respond for emergencies in the City of Palm Springs. Prior to the economic downturn, we had six apparatus in the city. Since the downturn, our call volume has gone up 35%, and continues to rise 3-5% every year. On top of the increasing call volume, we are experiencing concurrent calls 33% of the time. Essentially, this means that we have two or more units committed on calls at the same time. This results in delayed response times because units have to respond to calls outside their primary response area. It also means that we have fewer units available to respond to larger incidents such as structure fires or traffic accidents.
Question: Are lives in jeopardy now because of slow response times? If not, then why the need for the tax?
As discussed above, we have adopted the national standard as our goal for service to the community of Palm Springs. This means arriving within 6-minutes, 90% of the time.
We at the Palm Springs Professional Firefighters go to work every day to provide the best service possible to our community. We know they deserve our best. But with the current equipment and staffing levels, we only achieve the national standard 56% of the time.
To the Palm Springs Firefighters, measure D is about giving us the tools that we need in order to make sure we can be there for your families when they need us most. That’s why we are asking the voters to vote yes on Measure D, so we can be there when minutes matter most.
Question: If the tax does not pass, will lives be in jeopardy?
If Measure D does not pass, the city has said that they will have to look at cuts from our current budget. We understand that one of the potential cuts the city listed was to re-close Fire Station 5. This station was closed during the economic downtown and was just re-opened in July of 2016. If we lose those personnel our response times will definitely suffer, decreasing public safety and putting lives at risk. From our perspective, this would be a really unfortunate situation for both the community and our firefighters that serve the community. When Station 5 re-opened, we were excited to see fire and paramedic services returned back to the residents and business of that district.
Question: How will the city improve response times with more tax revenue? More men and women? More vehicles? If more personnel, how many and at what salary?
If Measure D passes, not only would be able to keep our fire stations open, but we would be able to hire additional firefighter/paramedics as part of our daily staffing. Yes, we would need to purchase a vehicle to facilitate this. By adding a paramedic squad, we would have an additional apparatus to respond to calls, especially in our busier districts like the downtown area. This will definitely help with response times and the concurrent calls we experience. (Editor’s note: Firefighter pay can be found HERE.)
Question: The city claims approving the tax will keep all five fire stations open. If it fails, will a station close? Has the city identified that station?
Last week, the budget sub-committee brought forth potential budget cuts to consider if Measure D were not to pass. Fire Station 5 was part of that list. By closing Fire Station 5, the entire southeast area of the city uncovered for both fire protection and paramedic services. Response times to that district would be greatly affected. We need to not only keep our fire stations open, but we need the proper staffing to meet the needs of our growing city.
Question: If a station closes, what are the repercussions?
Simply put any further cuts to our Fire or Police Department result in a direct negative impact to the safety of our citizens. We believe that government’s number one job is to keep the people safe. That’s what our members do when they go to work every day. To us, Measure D is about giving us the staffing and equipment we need to properly take care of our community.
Question: The city says this tax will help increase paramedic services. How? By adding men and women? If so, how many and at what salary?
To meet our current needs and expected growth, it is essential to add staffing so that we can place additional units on the street. If we were able to add a paramedic squad, we would see the benefit immediately. This would be a great first step in the right direction.
Question: What you like to add that perhaps was not asked here?
Thank you for the opportunity to answer good questions regarding the critical need to pass Measure D this November. Our members are working hard to get the word out about the important public safety needs of the community and how Measure D helps keep Palm Springs safe.