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Councilor continues to push for answer to staffing question as review of PFD study reaches half way point

Forty-five days after having begun to look at implementing recommendations made in an in-depth study of the Portland Fire Department, one city councilor continued to ask why the agency is staffed at its current level.
Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria met with the council's Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday to update them on the work that's been done to date on developing an implementation plan of the operations and management study conducted by a Maryland consulting firm. During the question and answer period of the meeting, Councilor Ed Suslovic continued to seek an answer to his question as to why PFD has 3.5 firefighters per thousand residents and comparable cities have 1.7 firefighters per thousand.
Deputy City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian said she sent follow-up questions to Public Safety Solutions — the company that conducted the study — and asked questions about the staffing level. She said the answer that was returned stated the diversity of the PFD's services make it difficult to compare to other cities solely on the number of firefighters.
Hill-Christian said her understanding of the consultant's answer is that the PFD can't be compared as apples to apples to other departments because of the variety of services.
LaMoria said the decision about staffing levels ought to be made on the basis of what level of service the citizens Portland have come to expect and want to continue having in the future. He said that should be considered more than what other fire departments are doing.
Suslovic said he's still trying to figure out what's going on in other cities that their staffing levels are so much lower. He said are they accepting more risk by having less people or have they found ways to operate more efficiently that Portland doesn't know about.
Hill-Christian said the city asked the consultant to look at the PFD and not evaluate how other cities run their departments.
Councilor Jill Duson said since it's only halfway through the time the council gave the PFD to put together its implementation plan, she thinks that the staff isn't ready to answer the question of appropriate staffing level until the full evaluation of the report is complete.
"I believe that the response to your question will come to use in more detail when the department puts together its response to the report," she said.
Public Safety Solutions, Inc., of Maryland, was hired by City Manager Mark Rees to conduct the study of PFD. The city allocated $39,000 for the study. The consultants spent about three weeks in Portland visiting the various stations, conducting interviews and researching for the final report.
Following an April 1 workshop on the report, the council gave the Fire Department 90 days to develop an implementation plan, and LaMoria showed the committee six areas where progress is already being made.
LaMoria said the report doesn't give a silver bullet that will make the department function better but it did provide information on how to move forward in a slow and deliberate manner.
In the 45 days since beginning to digest the report, LaMoria said he identified six areas that could be immediately address: tackling the facility life safety issues; continuing the review of the study; reorganizing administrative staff and department functions; improving resource utilization; clarifying staff expectations and responsibilities; and community engagement.
LaMoria said he expects to have completed the review of the report by the end of July and would like to present those findings to the committee in August.

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