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      As the President of the Lincoln Firefighters Association and a citizen of this community, I want to address some issues that have been a matter of public debate in the last few weeks.

      Today’s meeting was sparked by the tragedy that occurred over the holiday weekend and our desire to prevent these types of situations from occurring in the future. Early Thursday morning, an individual fell from a pedestrian bridge onto an active train track. When emergency crews responded, they followed the direction of Fire Chief John Huff and left their fire engine unmanned in the fire station, to respond instead in a pickup truck for the purpose of saving money. When they arrived, they found an individual lying injured on the tracks with another train traveling on an immediately adjacent track within approximately 8 feet of the victim.

      Rescuers were blocked by an 8 foot tall fence that runs along the tracks. Due to the fact that they responded in a pickup instead of their fire engine, the firefighters did not have their ladders to scale the fence nor their tools to force entry through the fence. They instead, had to call dispatch a request that an actual fire truck be sent with the appropriate equipment. This caused a direct delay in being able to move the patient to a safe environment and to provide the critical care and transport that were necessary due to the severity of injuries suffered by this individual. In fact, it was approximately 20 minutes from the time crews were dispatched to the call to when they were able to transport the patient in an ambulance. This should not happen in our community. The firefighters who are actually out on the street care about public safety. We have been working to defend safe practices and adequate resources to protect the citizens of Lincoln. This preventable delay in providing care to the individual is unacceptable in our community. When the safe and proven methods of emergency response take a back seat to short sided desires to reduce spending on public safety, these kinds of incidents are the predictable result. The firefighters on their own, are working to establish a fund to help this individual and their family with medical expenses.

      Anyone who would argue that these are isolated incidents is simply wrong. In addition to Thursday’s incident, firefighters also responded in a pickup on Wednesday, to a party with back pain. When they arrived, they found that this was actually a vehicle accident with injuries. They did not have water or hose lines to protect from fires that are caused by leaking fuel, they did not have their standard hazardous materials equipment they would use to confine and contain fluids, that leak from vehicles in an accident, nor did they have their fire engine that is normally positioned to create a safe area for patients and the firefighters who are caring for them. A third incident occurred on Monday when the battalion chief called for a 2nd alarm, for a fire at a high-rise structure in downtown Lincoln. Engine 1’s crew had to drive the pickup they were in from the previous call, back to the fire station to switch vehicles and don their protective clothing, before they could respond to the fire. Lincoln firefighters respond directly from one call to the next, without returning to the station, on a daily basis. It is crucial that they respond in their correct emergency vehicle, so that they can be prepared to handle whatever emergency they are called to.

      I would also like to take this opportunity today to clear up some inaccurate and even dishonest information surrounding the use of an alternate response vehicle in Lincoln. The first is the claim by the Journal Star’s editorial board that they were “disappointed” in the firefighter’s union for resisting the experiment, to see if it would be effective and save taxpayer money, to send a pickup to calls instead of a fire engine. The truth is, that the Union allowed the experiment to run for approximately two years and only filed a grievance once crews were ordered to take the pickup on all medical calls, regardless of how critical the call. The truth is that due to our mutually negotiated agreement with the city, we were required to file the grievance and request to arbitrate within a specific timeframe or risk losing the ability to contest the matter any further. The truth is that during the experiment period, firefighters and fire captains were asked to complete a survey after using the pickup. When the responses to the survey identified a reduced service to the citizens and concerns for safety, the results of the survey were then not published.

      The second issue to clarify is the data being distributed regarding fuel mileages and cost per mile to operate the vehicles. The Journal Star reported Tom Casady saying that the fire engine gets 3 miles per gallon and the pickup gets 15 miles per gallon. This appears at first glance to the public as an incredible savings. Unfortunately, it is simply not true. The truth is a Journal Star reporter requested the fuel data from the fire department. What he found was that for the entire year of 2013, Engine 1 which is the engine currently being bypassed for the use of a pickup, actually got 4.4 miles per gallon and that pick up only got 7. When that reporter wrote his next article, he included the true and accurate fuel numbers for the vehicles, but he was told when the story was printed, that those true numbers had been cut from the article for “space reasons”.

      According to the 2013 annual report from the fire department, Engine 1 drove 9,298 miles last year. The truth is that even if Engine 1 was put in storage for the entire year not driving a single mile, and the pickup had been used to drive every one of those miles, that using current fuel prices, it would have equated to a savings of only $3,100 for the entire year. That is approximately one penny per person, per year. The truth is that if we replaced the busiest fire engine in the city with a pickup last year, each person would only save a penny in fuel costs.

      When proponents realized they would not fool the citizens by inflating fuel numbers by more than 100%, they quickly switched their tactic to a cost per mile. They claim the engine costs $4.03 per mile to operate while the pickup cost $0.71 per mile. The truth is that the pickup currently being used is not the vehicle the city intends to use. The vehicle they have identified for use is a Mercedes that still has to be purchased and prepared for emergency service at a cost of around $50,000. The truth is that the cost per mile is not a reliable unit of measure in this case, because some of the costs are static and will not be reduced even by driving fewer miles. Driving the fire engine less would actually increase the cost per mile and make the engine appear even more expensive to operate. In this case, the fire engine is not being eliminated but would still need to be purchased, equipped, maintained, insured, and eventually replaced, only to sit in the fire station, while the city would then purchase a second vehicle that they would need to equip, maintain, and insure. While the pickup may be cheaper to operate when compared side by side to a fire engine, it is highly unlikely that it would be more efficient to have 2 vehicles with their associated costs than one.

      The operating cost per mile quoted for this fire engine is also higher the necessary due to the fact that this engine is nearly 14 years old. The standard for fire suppression vehicles is 10 years for frontline use, then 5 years as a reserve apparatus before being decommissioned. The truth is, the city has let its current fleet of vehicles deteriorate to such levels that if they presented a list of what was actually needed, it would appear as a greedy wish list. The truth is 9 of the city's fire engines and trucks are over 15 years old, have greater than 125,000 miles on them, and should be decommissioned, but they are still being used as frontline apparatus. They are in such disrepair that there are incidents where they would not even start when dispatched to a fire, they will not shift past 2nd gear in the middle of a response and have to pull over to shut the truck off, or the ladder on top of the truck could not be operated in a scenario when called upon, just to name a few. The truth is, aside from the botched purchase of fire engines in 2006, that didn't meet specifications, the city has only replaced 1 single fire engine since the 1990s when Mike Merwick was the fire chief. We support the fiscally responsible budgeting practice that was used at the time of replacing 1 apparatus per year. The city has now gotten so far behind, that it will cost taxpayers over 4 million dollars just to replace the engines and trucks that need it immediately, not to mention the condition of reserve vehicles. LFR is currently down to 1 reserve fire engine and 1 reserve truck. This means that if a second engine or truck is broken down at the same time the city will either send a pickup truck to your fire or they will close the fire station in your neighborhood and send the personnel elsewhere. We can no longer ignore the need to purchase essential equipment.

      The final clarification I want to make is that when the firefighters respond in a pickup, there is no one left at the station to staff their fire engine. Some people seem to think there is not a lapse in fire protection during this time. The truth is there is inadequate fire protection before even considering a pickup. Either due to a lack of education or a desire to retain their current positions, the appointed and elected officials have reassured the citizens of Lincoln that they are safe and have all the protection they need. The truth is, the city has not added a fire station or fire engine in 18 years. The city has grown by more than 60,000 people during that time. That is larger than the entire city of Grand Island. The truth is, our city had 4 ladder trucks in the 1950s, and is still operating with only 4 ladder trucks, 60 years later. Each ladder truck is now expected to cover an area that is approximately 20 square miles. That was roughly the size of the entire city in the 1950s when 4 trucks shared the coverage area. The fire department’s annual report shows that we are currently unable to meet any of the benchmark goals for response times.

      Contrary to what some may say, the number of fires is not going down. Lincoln firefighters extinguished 502 working incidents last year. The firefighters on the streets of Lincoln care about public safety, but they cannot continue to do more with less. We want a fiscally responsible department and the firefighters are often the source of improved and efficient methods. We recommend using scientific data, industry proven best practices, and national standards to establish safe and effective operating procedures that are not ignored to jeopardize public safety for the sake of an individual to appear innovative or thrifty.

      Mayor Beutler has continually sought input from the citizens regarding community priorities. Every year the citizens speak loud and clear when they identify safety and security as their highest priority, yet so many residents do not realize what services they do or do not have. I beg the citizens of Lincoln to educate themselves, to be informed, to seek the truth. Do not take my word for it. Don't take the word of some appointed figurehead. Find out for yourself, research the facts, find a firefighter who is out there serving the community and ask for the truth. No one's life should be sacrificed for one penny per year. Please do not let these sorts of tragedies happen again. Call Mayor Beutler, call your council members and tell them that your life is worth more than a penny, that your children's lives are worth more than a penny, that your parent’s and your sibling’s and your next door neighbor’s lives are worth more than a penny.

      Ron Trouba, President

      Lincoln Firefighters Association Local 644


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