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A steady rise in both medical calls and special events that require the presence of emergency personnel has the Williamsburg Fire Department looking to expand its workforce.
In the department’s budget request earlier this year, Chief Pat Dent identified a need for three new full-time employees who would primarily serve as medics, though they would also be trained as firefighters.
With verbal support from City Council regarding the request at the January budget retreat, City Manager Marvin Collins has included the additional positions – along with one full-time financial technician for the Finance Department – in his budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.
The three new medics would add an estimated $192,000 to the city budget and bring the total number of employees within the Fire Department to 40.
City Council members, who received a copy of the proposal March 25, will hear a budget presentation from Finance Director Phil Serra at today’s work session at 4 p.m. in the Stryker Center at 412 N. Boundary St. Though a public hearing will not be held today, citizens may comment on any topic during the open forum period at the end of the meeting.
The first budget public hearing is slated for City Council’s regular meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Council members previously received a briefing on the request for three positions within the Fire Department at the budget retreat in January, where Dent explained the need stems from a 33 percent increase in the department’s call volume since 2008 and no increase to its staffing in the same time period.
Because 73 percent of the total call volume is medical related, the three new positions would be EMS focused with about three weeks – instead of the typical 16 weeks – of Fire Academy training.
During the retreat, Dent attributed the increase in medical calls as a percentage of total calls to several factors: structures are less prone to fires because of advances in fire safety; Williamsburg has an older and active population; and tourism is steadily increasing as local attractions, particularly Colonial Williamsburg, look to draw tourists using interactive programming.
“And of course, when something goes wrong, we’re the first ones people think of whether it turns out they really needed EMS help or not,” Dent said. “They think something is wrong, so they call us. Whether it’s a false alarm or not, staff time is still being dedicated to those calls.”
The new positions would also help the department to staff special events within the city, which accounted for 1,292 staff hours for 42 events in fiscal 2015. That averages out to about 25 hours per week, Dent said.
“We want to encourage those special events to continue to utilize the City of Williamsburg, but it obviously comes with a cost to our fire department,” Dent said. “[Working special events] is on a volunteer basis, but it’s gotten to a point that the demand is so high that sometimes we’re having to assign people to those events.”
The budget public hearing Thursday is the only one scheduled for this budget cycle. A budget work session is earmarked for April 18, if Council deems it necessary. Adoption is slated for May 12.
City Council will also join the James City County Board of Supervisors and the Williamsburg-James City County School Board for a joint meeting on the budget at 9 a.m. April 22 in the Stryker Center.