Report: All-volunteer fire department not ‘viable’

Published 9:41 pm Monday, June 4, 2012

A Florida-based consultant firm has recommended against Albert Lea moving to an all-volunteer fire department, after a review of the local department earlier this year.

The written study from Almont Associates, released Monday for public review, states the city does not appear to have a candidate pool of potential volunteers sufficient to support the fire activity in the community.

An all or majority volunteer force would also require two fire stations to reduce response times, the report stated.

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“The corresponding insurance increases and projected increase in fire loss would offset any savings realized while potentially adding to an increase in injuries and deaths,” the study stated.

The firm was looking at whether there should be changes in staffing for the department, along with what should be done with the existing fire station and who should lead the department. The evaluation comes as the city is dealing with tight budget times with the loss of state funding and other revenue.

The city contracted with Almont Associates to get an outside viewpoint.


Currently, the department is made up of 16 full-time positions, including one chief, four captains and 11 firefighters. The chief’s position is being filled with an interim chief, and two firefighter positions are filled with temporary employees.

The Albert Lea Township Fire Department also contributes with paid on-call staff of one chief, two captains and 14 firefighters. The two departments share one administrative assistant.

Though the firm did not recommend moving to an all-volunteer department, it did give the city three options for staffing — some of which included reductions.

The first option called for maintaining the current number of personnel, but redefining some of the positions. It also called for increased productivity in the workforce by 33 percent.

This option was estimated to cost about $1.7 million annually, which would be an increase in the current budget to cover benefits for the two temporary firefighters and to cover equipment maintenance and other services that have been underfunded or eliminated.

The second option called for reducing the workforce by three full-time firefighter positions, with little to no increase in productivity.

This option was estimated to cost about $1.32 million annually. The firm listed disadvantages such as less control of property loss, limited ability to offer services outside of the community and a reduction in the city’s ISO rating from a 3 to a 4, among others.

According to the report, insurance increases would be minimal in commercial property insurance rates and there would be no impact on residential customers.

The third option called for reducing the workforce by one captain and six firefighters. This would bring a loss in productivity.

Costs for this option were estimated at $1.22 million annually.

According to the report, the disadvantages of this option include an increase in property loss and similar ISO reduction, among others.

“This option would rely heavily on volunteers to provide the additional firefighters required to make entry into a burning building,” the study stated. “Without these firefighters the department would be required to fight the fire from the exterior, greatly increasing the property damage and financial loss.”

The firm stated it discussed further reduction during its analysis, but found that “reducing the current staff beyond the options described does not appear to be viable.”


The report gave three options for managing the department:

• Appoint a public safety director over the police and fire departments. Under the public safety director would be a deputy director of fire and a deputy director of police.

• Appoint a part-time fire chief. The firm stated it did not support this option.

• Appoint a full-time fire chief. This option would be about $152,000 less than the public safety model.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said he hopes to make a decision on the leadership in the department within the next 30 days after hearing feedback from the public.

He said he needed to look at language in the charter concerning whether he could make that decision or whether the City Council would need to do so.

If the fire and police departments were going to be combined under one public safety director, he didn’t think he had the authority to do this.

Adams said he liked the comprehensive nature of the report and the discussions of costs for options.

“That will be an important part of our discussion,” he said. “How does it affect taxpayers? Regardless of which direction we go with the structure and the leadership, there are going to be significant costs with facilities, just changing the way we do things. Are we able to afford it?”

Look to the Tribune for additional stories about the results of the study.

There will also be a public presentation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday about the report at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.