The mid-April Bossier City Council agenda included a “resolution authorizing the restructure of Fire Department Personnel at a cost savings of $67,324.53 due to the retirement of an Administrative Fire Chief.”
This was not the first “restructure” effort by Fire Chief Brad Zagone. As he then noted, the duties of this Administrative Fire Chief would be absorbed by others – and that over the last few years several administrative positions have been deleted along the same lines.
A visit with Zagone and Deputy Chief Steve Pennell is an opportunity to discover how efficiently those positions have been eliminated, saving the department and the city money – and find that these cuts probably better serve the public as more firefighters and EMS personnel are added to the ranks.
Zagone said that one of the first cuts was the position of Safety Officer – the fire department had three of these positions at Assistant Chief’s pay.
“We have three District Chiefs,” Zagone explained, noting this number is determined on the number of city fire stations. “But anybody on the ground can be a safety officer, so now we respond two district chiefs to a major event, and one of them we assign safety to. So that is a way of utilizing what we already have … and taking away that position gives us a way of getting positions on the bottom – firefighters.”
The Fitness Chief (assistant chief) position was also eliminated. Zagone said that those duties were absorbed by two firefighters on each shift who were sent to Coopers Institute for the same training that the former Fitness Chief received. Coopers specializes in fire and law enforcement fitness and standards.
“Now we use the line guys, two on each shift that are Cooper-trained, to do the physical assessments of the guys on their shift,” Zagone said.
Another position that went by the wayside: Assistant Chief of Internal Affairs.
“We’re not a police department; we don’t get complaints … Out of the last three years we may have had four internal affairs issues … Well, I didn’t see this position making assistant chief pay for four things that happen over three years,” said Zagone.
“I’ve been up here three years, and I think we’ve had one written complaint,” Pennell added.
He noted that there are occasional telephone complaints, but they are quickly handled. And there are sometimes accidents that must be handled. Zagone explained that streamlining paperwork was a major factor in speeding up the process of addressing complaints or other issues. An administrative assistant handles the paper work after an assistant chief initializes the process.
Zagone said another position eliminated was that of Assistant Chief of EMS. He explained that he asked the Chief of EMS to determine which he could do without – the assistant chief or the three EMS supervisors. The EMS Chief chose to keep the supervisors.
“I came in (as Fire Department Chief), and at the time I think we had 181 people, so we had to maximize where everybody went, and that’s when we started cutting a lot and getting people back on the bottom (as firefighters),” said Zagone.
Another position cut was that of fire prevention officers – those duties have been absorbed by other personnel in the department.
Changes have not been limited to upper level positions in the Fire Department, however. Zagone explained that a change in firefighting vehicles allowed for reducing the number of firefighters at one fire station – but detailing Zagone’s attention to fire department infrastructure is another column. Look for it in the next couple of weeks, along with other ways the department has reduced costs.
In the meantime, Zagone and Pennell say that over a dozen positions have been eliminated by thoughtful consideration of how those duties can be absorbed.
In response to the question of savings to the Fire Department’s budget, Zagone said that if he had to restore these positions to the personnel structure that existed when he became Chief in March 2011, it would cost about $1 million (salaries, benefits, retirement).
That Fire Department “restructuring” has made a considerable contribution to reducing costs in the city’s budget – but at the same time maintaining the department’s ultimate goal of safeguarding life and property in Bossier City.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at email@example.com