Senators concerned about maintenance of new emergency vehicles
Daryl George, director of fire and emergency medical services, told members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that his department needs a 7% budget increase from fiscal year 2022 due to the increase in personnel costs due to the transfer of EMS employees.
He said 90% of the $30.1 million requested from the General Fund was for staff costs.
The staff he oversees since emergency medical services were transferred to fire services in April include 308 people. Of the 308: 232 are in fire suppression; 11 are in investigation and prevention of arson; 31 are in administration and 34 are in EMS.
He testified that eight new firefighters in the St. Croix district were deployed last November and in St. Thomas/St. John District, 22 firefighters were hired last month.
He said the number of EMS-certified firefighters is expected to increase. Four firefighters have been certified as emergency medical responders, bringing the total number of firefighters/EMRs to 25. Two more firefighters have become emergency medical technicians, and additional firefighters are expected to complete their EMT training by October.
According to George, unrestricted funding is a key part of the fire department and emergency medical services budget. He said unrestricted local funds are expected to total $827,800 in 2023, based on projections from the Fire Services Emergency Fund and the Emergency Services Fund.
The Fire Services Emergency Fund comes from fines and fees collected by the Prevention Unit for fire safety inspections, permits and other services. The Emergency Services Fund consists of emergency surcharges collected from mobile and landline users.
One area that caused senators concern was an expanding fleet of vehicles with no maintenance plan and no designated funds for fuel.
Senator Javan James said he wanted to make sure there was a maintenance plan. He was told that maintenance was paid for out of the Emergency Services Fund.
Senator Kenneth Gittens went on to say that he was concerned that there was no regular maintenance schedule that “ensures vehicle inspections”. He added: “I don’t want a firefighter to get hurt or hurt anyone else in an accident.” He said the sirens had to be loud enough and the flashing lights all worked.
Senator Janelle Sarauw wondered if the recruiting effort to fill a vacancy for a mechanic had “branched” enough. She said the department couldn’t just say the salary ($50,000) was too low and stop trying.
In February, two rescue vehicles, purchased with a grant from the Ministry of the Interior, were received and put into service. Six additional response vehicles – four rapid response vehicles and two fire engines – are expected to arrive in the territory by the end of the month and will be put into service by the end of July. The pumpers were purchased with funding allocated by the Senate. Three more vehicles have been purchased with appropriate funds and are expected to arrive on the islands in September.
A boat that will serve as a base for a new maritime intervention team is expected to arrive early next year. George said members of the response team will be recruited internally and a training plan for maritime response will be developed.
The senses. Attending the committee hearing were Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne DeGraff, James, Carla Joseph, Gittens and Sarauw.