The Matthews Fire & EMS Department needs more career firefighters.
That’s the argument Fire & EMS Chief Dennis Green recently presented to Town Manager Hazen Blodgett in a memo as department leaders are preparing their budget requests for the next fiscal year.
The combination paid and volunteer department currently relies heavily on mutual aid assistance from its partner departments: Idlewild, Mint Hill, Providence and Stallings, Green said.
“ … Without the mutual aid agreements and their response to help us when needed, we would not be fully staffed,” he said in the memo. “We have reached a point where we need to examine the possibility of increasing the number of career firefighters and/or seeking other alternatives in order to continue to provide a high-quality, fully-staffed fire and EMS service to our citizens. Everything is about the level of risk you are comfortable with.”
Now, Matthews uses career firefighters to cover its two stations Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and volunteers Monday through
Friday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and all day on Saturday and Sunday. Though the department has implemented a volunteer incentive plan, which has drawn in new recruits, volunteer numbers have decreased at the department in keeping with national trends, Green said. The department currently has 67 volunteers, but only one of those can respond to calls during daylight hours.
Since 2007, Matthews has responded to about 3,000 calls a year, with the number of calls increasing each year, Green said. The majority of those calls come between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., he said, which is also the timeframe first responders often receive multiple calls at the same time. In 2012, about 35 percent of the department’s calls for service overlapped with at least one other call and during the month of September overlapping calls occurred 53 percent of the time, according to the memo.
In the memo, Green recommends hiring three full-time career firefighters to help with daytime calls and a full-time administrative employee to manage clerical duties, which are currently handled by a career firefighter.
Matthews staff plans to request town commissioners approve Green’s recommendation for the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, town spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller said this week. The cost to add three firefighters is $150,000 for salary and benefits and $40,000 in salary and benefits would be needed to fill the administrative position. Matthews commissioners will get their first peek at the town manager’s proposed budget during a 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday, May 13. A budget workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 20 and a public hearing will be held on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. Monday, May 28.
Mint Hill’s budget workshop is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23.
All budget meetings are open to the public.
To keep up with demand, the Town of Mint Hill has hired more firefighters in recent years and revenue from the county’s new fire tax service is paying for three new hires. The agency is the only fire department in the county to provide ambulance transport to area hospitals.
The Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department, which includes 23 paid town employees, logged more than 3,300 calls in 2012 – an 11 percent increase over 2011, according to town records.