Ketchikan’s fire department is asking the City Council to approve nearly $200,000 in budget transfers to cover higher-than-expected overtime and supply costs.
Fire Chief Abner Hoage explains in a memo that despite a roughly 60% cut in the fire department’s overtime budget amid a pandemic-fueled drop in revenue, city leaders directed him to ensure emergency services would remain at normal levels. And that has meant more overtime.
“Unfortunately, the nature of emergency response does not always allow for implementation of cost-control measures without impacting the level of service that is provided,” Hoage wrote.
Hoage says a majority of the overtime is contractually required. Smaller portions, totaling roughly a quarter of overtime hours, are due to budget-related staff shortages. During last winter’s budget deliberations, council members voted to freeze hiring for two now-vacant firefighter-EMT jobs.
For instance, when a fire department ambulance is tasked with transporting a patient awaiting a medevac, Hoage says the fire department calls up off-duty personnel to ensure at least one ambulance remains available. The fire department also has to activate off-duty firefighters to fill in for people who are unexpectedly out sick. Hoage says the department has worked to control overtime by approving only “mission-critical” requests.
While overtime makes up nearly all of the budget overrun that the transfer seeks to alleviate, Hoage also asks for roughly $9,000 to cover unexpected supply costs.
Hoage says that’s partly due to an uptick in drug overdoses. In an email, Hoage says overdose calls have more than quadrupled in 2021. While there were only three between January and early August of last year, the same period this year saw 13 calls in which firefighters administered Narcan, a medication used to treat opioid overdoses.
Ketchikan’s City Council is scheduled to consider the fire department funding request at its Thursday evening meeting.
In other business, the council will discuss whether to ask the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to perform a “community homelessness needs assessment.” The city’s public works director says the roughly six-month process would identify potential avenues for reducing the number of people in Ketchikan without permanent homes.
Finally, the council is set to discuss repairing or replacing the community’s firefighting boat. The council approved roughly $3,000 to inspect the hull of the aging vessel at its previous meeting.
Ketchikan’s City Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Ted Ferry Civic Center. The full agenda is online. The meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and live-streamed at the city’s website. Members of the public have a chance to weigh in at the beginning of the meeting.