Your Views: Public safety must be budget priority

Your Views: Public safety must be budget priority
Firetrucks on the 300 block of South Pitt Street. (Photo Credit: Susan Phillips via Twitter)

To the editor:

City council is engaged in what I believe is their most challenging annual task: finalizing the city’s budget. Because budget dollars are a finite resource, they must prioritize between competing requirements that are all important.

That said, it is my opinion that public safety must always be the highest priority. Without it as a foundation for life in the city, all else that might be provided in any budget is rendered moot.

With that as perspective, I am writing to bring visibility to two critical public safety issues, both within the Alexandria Fire Department: compensation and placing four firefighters instead of three on all AFD engines, per federal guidelines. It would by no means break the budget to correct them both, and I believe strongly that we should.

To compare compensation, Alexandria lags behind all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions in compensation for all classification titles and has the lowest starting salary in the region. Our non-competitive salaries hurt recruitment and retention. More than half of our EMTs and firefighters have less than 10 years of service and experience, and one-third has less than five years.

It costs more than $100,000 to train and equip one firefighter, and more than $8,000 for one paramedic certification. By lagging behind in both starting and career compensation in the AFD, the city is truly being pennywise and pound fool- ish. We simply cannot afford the loss of personnel and the investment we’ve made in their training. We must stem the bleed- ing in both recruitment and retention.

With respect to engine manning, federal research and field experiments established the four-person engine crew as the best staffing model, including one advanced life support provider on the engine. In trials, all tasks were completed more efficiently, less time was spent on scene and injury potential to fire personnel was reduced.

Specifically, as compared to three-person crews, four-person crews completed trauma tasks more than two minutes faster, fire suppression tasks more than five minutes faster and high-rise fire suppression tasks 12 minutes faster.

AFD does not currently have four-person crew manning across all of its engines, and it can be a matter of life and death.

If you agree that fixing these critical public safety issues in the budget is a priority, I urge you to please consider reaching out to all members of the council through “Call.Click.Connect” and request that they do so. Time is of the essence, as lives are potentially at stake.

-Dan Koslov, Alexandria