June 20, 2024

Fire department creates temporary positions to fill injuries, turnover

Council members approve the action in hopes of maintaining operations, stymieing revenue loss

With two firefighters on leave due to injuries and because of the staff turnover to the Des Moines metro agencies, the city council on May 15 decided to approve the creation of two temporary firefighter/EMT/paramedic positions at the Newton Fire Department in order to maintain operations.

Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik said the station is currently staffed in three crews of eight to seven firefighters (eight-seven-seven). One injured worker is applying for a long-term disability through the pension system, and Wellik said that process takes about four months. Another firefighter is on short-term disability.

“We don’t think we’ll have a resolution for that until the end of the year,” Wellik said. “On the plus side, we had somebody take a position in the metro area and that position we actually filled with a paramedic position, which we’re hoping will start the last week of May and will create only a small amount of overlap.”

However, the two injuries have decreased the number of staff on crews, which is currently at seven-seven-six. When the fire department is staffed at six, Wellik said what happens is when a staff member has time off, he or she does not have the ability to cover all of the calls in town.

“The ones that drop off are the non-emergency transfers that come out of MercyOne Medical in Newton to other hospitals. For that, we do generate revenue … It is approximately $800 in revenue that we get from each transfer,” Wellik said, later noting it amounts to about 19 transfers per shift per month.

According to a memo sent by Wellik to the city administrator, the fire department conducts about 670 transfers per year, which equates to about $536,000.

When accounting for time off — which increases more in the summertime — the lightest six-person shift can only be staffed at five. City policy states that when staffed at five, the department can only take emergency interfacility transfers. Wellik’s memo states this results in interfacility transfers being turned down.

Interfacility transfers are 22 percent of the Newton Fire Department’s call volume and account for 47 percent of the station’s revenue. This means at five people the department would see a loss of revenue. Turning down five transfers in one month — 25 percent of the month’s average — would amount to a loss of $4,000 dollars.

Adding just one temporary full-time position at a total of $21,772 is more cost-effective in the long run, Wellik argued in the memo.

The fire chief stated the reduction in revenue from turning down 50 percent of transfers over a three-month period and the savings hiring a new paramedic was more than what it would cost to hire the temporary position, which he estimated to be about $23,367. The net savings would be $1,595.

Wellik also stated in his memo that staff have experienced difficulty in scheduling time off and stress related to the unknown of mandatory hold over. Reduced staffing is also affecting the number of interfacility transfers being performed; though expense and revenue projections show it will have minimal impact.

Still, staff recommended the council to approve the two temporary positions, with one being filled immediately and holding the other position for potential use at a later date subject to approval by the city administrator. The city council voted 6-0 to approve the creation of the two positions.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.