JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla-- The city manager of Jacksonville Beach, George Forbes, said about six months ago he told the different city departments to try and come up with ideas to save money, but keep the same level of service. Now the city council is looking at one of those ideas, which is to have auxiliary firefighters within the fire department.
The Jacksonville Beach Fire Department has 31 fulltime firefighters, including the chief. Forbes says the idea is to keep all 31 firefighters, but after they work their 40 hours a week, use an auxiliary firefighter to cut down on overtime costs and supplement staffing.
Fire Chief Gary Frazier says to be an auxiliary firefighter the person would have to be fully certified as a firefighter and an EMT. He added the auxiliary firefighters would not be paid or receive benefits, but would be at the front of the line for hiring if a fulltime position was to open.
"As any organization changes to meet the challenges in the future, we've got to look at a way of doing things differently and that is ultimately what we are trying to do," says city manager George Forbes.
Forbes says the budget for the fire department last year was around 3.4 million, the majority of which went toward personnel costs.
Lance Sparrow, the spokesman for the Jacksonville Beach Firefighters Union, says this is not just about overtime, this is also about safety for the firefighters.
"You have to depend on the guys you are working with, not a once a month guy that you hardly even know and you don't know his weaknesses or his strengths, that is the most important issue," says Sparrow.
Sparrow added that several of the firefighters depend on the overtime and to take it away would hurt their families.
Chief Frazier told First Coast News that since he didn't have the budget for next year yet he doesn't know what, if any, cuts they will be facing. He said that since his budget has been scaled back for several years the only place he has left to cut is in overtime.
It is important to note that this is just an idea Jacksonville Beach is looking at. It would have to move through the city council before it could be finalized and that could take a few months.
First Coast News