City leaders take a walk in firefighter turnouts

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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After performing CPR on a dummy, dismantling a car and manning fire hoses, most of Lincoln’s leaders haven’t changed their mind about next year’s General Fund budget. The Lincoln Fire Department invited all five City Councilmembers, City Manager Jim Estep and Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak, to participate in firefighter training last Wednesday through Friday. “It’s fun and all part of the educational process,” said Aaron Bjorgum, a firefighter and vice president of the Lincoln Fire Fighters Assocation. “It’s to help them make a more informed decision as far as laying off (personnel) and decisions for the budget.” Bjorgum said last week’s events were firefighter John Ferry’s idea. Ferry said the idea came from “talks of reduction of staffing” in the fire department. “Because the economy doesn’t look that much better, they (city administration and council) could try and reduce staffing in the future,” Ferry said. “I wanted them to see the difference between a two-man engine and three-man engine staff. We run a lot of medical aids, and run a few fires here and there, and even a simple medical aid could need a lot of manpower.” City Council must soon approve the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That budget includes the General Fund, which provides monies for police, fire, library and recreation department services. According to previous News Messenger reports, the General Fund’s deficit is projected to be $431,602 for the next fiscal year. On May 10, City Council directed staff to lay off four police officers, with no layoffs in the fire department. Estep, who manned the Jaws of Life and also charged up a four-story building with a fire hose last Thursday, described his experience being firefighter for a day as “very hard work.” “In other words, even things that appear to be simple is extremely difficult,” Estep said. “I have a better appreciation for what they (fire personnel) are up against.” Jatczak’s role last Thursday included keeping the spine of a dummy still while firefighters extricated it from a BMW and hooking a hose up to a fire hydrant. “They are a lot busier than people think,” Jatczak said. “I knew that but a lot of people don’t. It’s always best to live the experience so when people talk about things that are not true or there are misperceptions, I can correct them in a nice way.” Jatczak said her experience would not change her decision regarding next year’s budget. “We have received direction from council and are moving forward and right now that leaves fire held higher. (We are) still moving forward with (the) four police department (layoffs) in the proposed budget document,” Jatczak said. “It was a great experience but really doesn’t have any impact on the 2011-2012 budget.” Performing CPR on a dummy while riding backward in an ambulance was one role Joiner played last Thursday, as well as working to stabilize a donated car the firefighters used to practice removing a accident victim. “My experiences with the Lincoln Fire Department certainly gave me a greater appreciation of the demanding and strenuous work performed every day by the members of the Fire Department,” Joiner said Monday. “That said, the experience did not change the city’s fundamental challenge.” That challenge is continuing “to provide public safety services to the citizens of Lincoln” with “greatly reduced revenues,” according to Joiner. “I don’t think there is a person on the City Council that would not like to be able to fully fund and staff both the fire departments and the police department but the harsh reality is that, for the moment, the city simply does not have the resources to do so,” Joiner said. The News Messenger was not present for Councilmen Tom Cosgrove, Gabriel Hydrick, Stan Nader and Spencer Short’s training. “It has been many years since I have worn turnouts and a breathing apparatus and it seemed to be easier back then,” Cosgrove said. “In regard to the upcoming budget, I will continue to support public safety as an essential service to the community.” Short called his training “insightful.” “It further reinforced the fact that we have never been able to fully staff the fire department,” Short said. He called having minimal staffing “a huge problem.” “It won’t affect the budget decision because of the simple fact of the matter is we don’t have enough revenue to do what we need to do,” Short said. “If we had more revenue, clearly our number-one priority would be to better staff public safety.” Nader said it was “eye-opening” regarding the variety of calls the fire department receives. “It demonstrated to me that we can’t cut below a certain number or (the fire department) becomes inefficient,” Nader said. Hydrick called the experience “a childhood dream come true.” “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” Hydrick said when asked if the training would impact his budget decision. “Business is business. I’m not in favor of cutting public safety right now so it won’t affect my decision.”