Firefighter Shortage Strains Department's OT Budget
Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 01/23/2008 12:00:00 AM MST
The El Paso Fire Department has been shifting staff, some of whom don't normally fight fires, because of a shortage of firefighters and a crunch on the overtime budget. The Fire Department, according to a financial report given to the City Council on Tuesday, is projected to be $2.5 million over its personnel budget this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31. About 80 percent of the funds budgeted for overtime has already been spent, department spokesman Lt. Mario E. Hernandez said. "Temporarily, they did reassign personnel," Hernandez said. "They reassigned three Haz-Mat techs, 12 inspectors and investigators in Fire Marshals (office) to place them back in rotation to work in the (fire) line." Staff from the communication division and the fire academy also have been shifted temporarily to fill holes at fire stations, especially during weekends, Hernandez said. Staff members, all of whom are trained as firefighters, will work part of the week in their regular posts and the rest of the time at a fire station. Hernandez said overtime has increased because the department is 67 firefighters short from its allotted level of 940. Hernandez emphasized that public safety has not been compromised by the shortage. The problem is not unique to El Paso. The National Fire Protection Association has reported the need for more firefighters in cities across the country. Some relief is in sight: Two El Paso Fire Department academies are scheduled this year, department officials said. On Feb. 18, a training academy of 24 cadets pre-certified as firefighters will begin. They will graduate in late March. Usually, pre-certified cadets have gone through firefighter classes at a community college. On April 14, a traditional six-month academy class with 60 cadets will start and will graduate in September. El Paso Firefighters Association President Joe Tellez said the shortage grew over the years because some academies for pre-certified applicants did not graduate enough cadets who met department standards. About four years ago, the department also shifted staff to fill vacancies at fire stations, he said. "The problem is it's hard to recruit people," Tellez said. "The Police Department has also had problems recruiting. We are competing with the federal agencies for the same talent."
Daniel Borunda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6102.