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Investigation: IF Fire Station No. 5 also partially staffed

By By Caleb James, Reporter
Published On: Jul 17 2013 12:36:31 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 17 2013 05:56:00 PM CDT

Caleb James reports.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

On Tuesday night our station learned a second west side Idaho Falls fire station frequently operates with a partial staff.

Under a federal law, Station No. 3 also operates partially staffed.

On Monday, our station reported crews at fire station no. 5 sometimes have to choose between sending an ambulance or a fire truck to emergency calls, due to an empty overtime budget.

Our investigation into the IFFD overtime budget crisis continues as we learn another station covering the west side of town is in the same situation.

Station No. 3 serves the west side, but it also serves Idaho Falls Regional Airport.

Because the station serves the airport, federal law requires one crew member to stay at the station almost all day long, unable to respond to other calls. That means station no. 3 crews also must frequently choose between dispatching an ambulance or a fire truck.

People in one west side neighborhood say the situation is making them nervous.

“It's a great community,” said Kathy Harward, of the neighborhood on Bellin Rd. where she’s lived for 20 years.

Harward sits in her Bellin Road backyard on Tuesday.

When she takes off her hat, the side effects of cancer treatment are obvious. She knows she may need an ambulance at anytime.
Fire station No. 5 is only down the road from Harward.
Idaho Falls said the city can't afford overtime for the rest of the fiscal year. The station could close on certain days. Union President Duane Nelson on Monday night told us it's a safety hazard for Idaho Falls constituents.

“It increases response time,” said Nelson.  

Stations No. 3 and 5 most frequently respond to calls west of the Snake River and station no. 1 downtown will often assist calls on both sides of town.

According to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, station no. 3 is required to run on partial staff, even when there aren't overtime concerns.

It's called ARFF coverage -- Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting. According to an Idaho Falls response to a public information request on Tuesday, one crew member is tethered to the station for 15 minutes prior to, and after flight arrivals and departures from the airport.

According to the information request, from about 5:35 a.m. to 11:54 p.m., the ARFF firefighter is tied to the station in 30-minute increments. On Tuesday a total 35 arrivals and departures came and went from IFRA.

Essentially, station No. 3 is in the same boat as station no. 5 -- both west side stations are faced with a choice on some emergency calls: send a truck or send an ambulance.

For Harward, there’s little comfort in that.

“I couldn't have somebody here in just a few minutes,” she said.  

Municipal Services Director Craig Lords said on Tuesday there is a reserve fund, and it can be used at the discretion of the city council. At its lowest, it has about $9.5 million available.
But Lords said it's in effect a savings account and should not be used to cover on-going expenses like overtime.  
We also requested a rundown of 2013's total calls from all Idaho Falls fire stations:

Station 1
Truck calls: 476
Ambulance calls: 1003

Station 2
Truck Calls: 289
Ambulance Calls: 926

Station 3
Truck Calls: 44
Ambulance Calls: 443

Station 4
Truck Calls: 484
Ambulance Calls: 1274

Station 5
Truck Calls: 123
Ambulance Calls: 408                            

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