Officials: Law enforcement, EMS, fire staffing adequate
By ANGIE HAFLICH
While some areas could benefit from additional manpower, officials say local law enforcement and emergency service departments are sufficiently staffed to cover Garden City and Finney County.
The Finney County Sheriff's Office's budget is set by the county commission. Sheriff Kevin Bascue said that due to budget cuts a few years ago, his staff size isn't quite at capacity, but that it still can meet the needs of the county.
"We have, including myself, 94 deputies for the whole sheriff's operation," Bascue said, adding that this is about eight staff members fewer than a few years ago. "We were staffed higher than that before we had some major budget cuts, but we had a four-person gang unit back then, now we have one. We used to have 21 patrol deputies, now we have 18 and we used to have 36 jail deputies, now we have 34, so we had to make some cuts."
While Bascue said that having those eight positions back would help, the department has managed. However, he did note a slight impact due to the number of patrol deputies.
"It may cut down on your patrol time because you're just going from call to call," he said. "So the bottom line is, when you reduce your patrol division and your community doesn't get smaller, you just have less eyes out there watching what's going on."
Other than that, Bascue said having fewer personnel has just meant paying more overtime.
"You end up doing more with less," he said. "We still have to cover what we cover but we just have to do it with less staff and it does incur overtime costs."
Garden City Police Sergeant Michael Reagle said that the GCPD is authorized for 58 sworn officer positions, and 55 currently are filled.
"As of right now, we are in the process of filling one of the open positions," Reagle said. "We have held off on filling the other two positions for the last few years due to budgetary concerns. Our overall budget has not decreased, but we have had to adjust certain line items to help cover for the increase in mandatory benefits to help keep the overall increases minimal. Nothing that has been done with the budget has affected the functions of the department."
Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton said that between the two fire stations in town, there is sufficient staff size to meet Finney County's needs.
"(There's) my position, administrative fire chief, one fire marshal, three battalion chiefs, 30 line personnel, 10 on-duty per shift, which is five per station," Shelton said, adding that between the two stations, the minimal staffing requirement is eight. "We take care of the entire county, which is 602 square miles for all the structural firefighting, as well as rescue. We have contracts for five of the townships for full service and we have two of the townships where we do mutual aid contracting with them."
Full-service contracting, meaning the fire department services all fire and rescue needs, is provided for townships of Terry, Pleasant Valley, Ivanhoe, Sherlock (which includes Holcomb), Garden City and Pierceville. Pierceville also falls under the mutual aid contract with the township of Garfield. The mutual aid contract means the GCFD handles all structural fires and rescue, as well as such incidents as grass fires, on an as-needed basis.
Holcomb's fire department also serves Holcomb and the surrounding area and assists the GCFD, as needed, as in the case of the Palmer Manufacturing fire on Dec. 3.
Joe Hopkins, director of Finney County Emergency Medical Services, said that overall, they are sufficiently staffed to meet the emergency medical needs of the county.
"We have 18 full-time employees and about 30 reserve squadron, part-time employees," Hopkins said, adding that part-time employees fill in as needed.
Those employees alternate working 48-hour shifts, in which six emergency responders are on duty at a time. After working 48-hour shifts, those six then are off duty for 96 hours.
Hopkins said they currently average eight emergency calls per day.
"If you figure one call takes from the time we get paged out, drop the patient off, get re-stocked, to the time we get back here and do a run sheet, it's about a two- to two-and-a-half-hour run," he said, adding that the run sheet documents what occurred during the call.
With two emergency responders dispatched per call, Hopkins said staffing currently is more than sufficient, but that if their calls ever increase to 20 per day, staff additions or schedule changes would be needed.
The four levels within the emergency medical services field include: Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs), Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Advanced EMTs and paramedics. Because Finney County EMS is licensed for Type-One service, Hopkins said a paramedic is required to be on duty 24 hours a day.
"Our medical director wants a paramedic on every call, so I have to have nine paramedics because we have three shifts," Hopkins said.
He called that the only shortfall in staffing, but only in terms of scheduling flexibility.
"We'd prefer to have all paramedics, because then people could have some flexibility in their schedule so that if one of them wants to go on vacation, they don't have to worry about who they are going to get to cover for them, since there is only one on duty at a time," he said, adding that it isn't at the forefront of his mind. "If you're specifically worried about budget, then you're not doing the right thing because our goal is to take care of the community and the best way to do that is to have a paramedic when we need it."