Mayor seeks five-year plan for fire department

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. wants Fire Chief Charles Atkins to develop a long-range plan for the Vicksburg Fire Department and address a series of issues the mayor believes holds the department back from improving.
Flaggs’ orders to Atkins are part of his program to make the city’s police and fire departments operate more efficiently, more effectively.
The city’s total public safety budget, which includes police, fire, ambulance service, traffic, inspection and emergency management, totals an estimated $16 million. Of that total, $14.7 million is for police, fire and ambulance, which is more than half of the city’s fiscal 2015 $29.15 million operating budget.
Flaggs wants to see changes in the police and fire departments to reduce the cost of operations without hurting service. His target for reductions in the fire department budget is $1.5 million in unidentified areas.
One thing that will not change, he said, is ambulance service. A recent visit by American Medical Response Ambulance Service gave the impression that Flaggs was considering privatizing ambulance service.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Concerning AMR’s visit, he said he was “comparing costs. To look. I don’t believe it will be in the best interest of Vicksburg to privatize ambulance service, but you should always compare cost. That’s what I was doing.”
To get what he wants out of the city’s public safety departments, Flaggs’
required Police Chief Walter Armstrong to prepare a plan to reduce crime by Jan. 1, and had a more ambitious plan for Atkins that requires him to meet eight objectives, including reducing fire department overtime, provide a plan for succession to command positions, recruiting and retaining quality firefighters and improving test scores, and developing a five-year plan for the department.
Armstrong has turned in his crime reduction plan.
Atkins, who is involved with developing responses to Flaggs’ request, declined to comment at this time.
“I’ve looked at the (fire department’s) organizational structure, looked at any number of things, and I’ve been concerned that we need a five-year plan,” Flaggs said.
“I’m convinced we need to look at the organizational chart, we need to revisit the duties of every firefighter, and we need to look at the standard operation guidelines as we go forward.”
He said he has appointed a committee to help Atkins develop the plan.
He believes the city needs to develop enhanced minimal qualifications for the leadership positions of deputy chief and battalion chief.
The department has two deputy chiefs, one over the ambulance service and paramedics, and another over firefighting. Deputy chief Kenneth Daniels is over the ambulance service. The other deputy chief position has been vacant since Mark Hales retired in February. Flaggs wants Hales’ replacement to be trained in firefighting and emergency medicine.
“I believe we’ll be better served if we have one of the deputy chiefs to be qualified in paramedic/fire suppression,” he said. “That would enhance the qualifications.”
His decision is based on the number of calls the fire department ran during 2013. Based on Vicksburg-Warren 911 records, he said, the fire department had 7,607 medical-related runs in the city and county, and 831 fire call runs in the city during the same period.
“Therefore, I think our structure ought to be geared toward cross-training,” he said. “There are any number of captains who are paramedics/firefighters, so that’s what I think we ought to be going to, with that second position being a paramedic/firefighter. ”
Another concern of Flaggs’ is the number of firefighters who have served more than 20 years, and recent scores from civil service promotion tests to qualify replacements for when they retire.
He said test results on promotional exams for both the fire and police departments were low, and in some cases few passed.
“Shouldn’t we do better if we’re taking the test and it’s on the standard operations book?” he asked.
“We’ve got to produce a better work force going forward,” he said.
Flaggs’ other concern is overtime. Overtime for firefighters was an issue last year, and Flaggs met with the firefighters to discuss it. A new pay program was developed to reduce overtime, but Flaggs has told Atkins he wants to see further reductions in the department’s built-in overtime.
One area where the city could regain the $1.5 million Flaggs would like to save is in the city’s interlocal agreement with Warren County for ambulance service.
Under the agreement, the county will pay the city $146 per run in fiscal 2015, a reduction from the $300 per run it paid in fiscal 2014. The current deal has no specific term, and Flaggs wants to raise the rate.
“We’re losing $1.2 million in providing service to the county,” he said. “We just got locked in. We waited too late to negotiate with the county last time. We have to improve upon that. We need to renegotiate.”
Flaggs said the changes he wants are part of his plans to move the city forward and encourage growth and economic development.
“It is incumbent on me to leave this city better than when I found it,” he said. “I’m passionate about this city. I grew up here, and I love this city.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John