Police and fire stretched thin as population grows
Aug 01, 2018 01:32PM
● By Jana Klopsch
Police protect and assist the community, and without enough officers they are unable to do so. (Courtesy West Jordan Police)
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
Current fire and police forces are unable to keep up with the needs of West Jordan residents. Both fire and police departments are asking for more personnel: Nine new firefighters and 10 new police officers.
On Aug 14, there is a Truth in Taxation meeting that will discuss the possibility of raising West Jordan property taxes by 20 percent. This increase is meant solely to meet the needs of the West Jordan Fire and Police departments.
The leaders of these forces are passionate about their great needs.
Interim Fire Chief Clint Petersen said, “[We have] a desperate need to increase our staffing by nine personnel.”
Interim Police Chief Richard Davis said, “[The officers are] experiencing burnout we don’t want them to experience, but they’re getting pushed that way.”
West Jordan City population increased 37 percent between 2000 and 2017. Call volume to the fire department in that same time period increased by 75 percent. Growth is anticipated to continue in the coming years.
West Jordan has four fire stations. Two of those fire stations have ambulances that in the past six months have been entirely idle. There are not enough firefighters at those stations to properly use the ambulances.
Petersen explained how the stations are operated and why it is crucial to have more firefighters on hand. With so few firefighters, when a station gets a call, all hands are needed and are unable to respond to any other calls until the current one is completed.
“When we’re minimally staffed at 19, both ambulances are [unusable] out of [stations] 53 and 55. Now, a call goes in 53’s area. They go on a transport engine. The [resident] want to be transported somewhere, the [firefighters are now] gone. Depending on where they go, our average out of service time is 58 minutes. Now, medical and fire protection is gone for that area of the city. Now [station] 55 gets a call, they transport. Now, half the city is without medical and fire protection.”
“This happens every day,” Petersen said. “We’ve had the whole city empty on several occasions.”
Increasing staff by 10 will then allow the fire stations to have a minimum staff of 21 firefighters at a time. That will then allow stations 53 and 55 to operate their ambulances and, when a medical call comes in they will also be able to respond to other fire and medical needs.
Without sufficient police officers on duty, responding to calls for aid in a timely matter becomes impossible.
“Sometimes the call screens are holding up to 25 or 30 calls,” Davis said. “We have to then start prioritizing, handling the priority calls first. Sometimes we hold on to the non-priority calls for two to three hours. We don’t feel that’s a very good way to service our community.”
In 2016, each officer, on average, handled 1,317 calls. In 2017, each officer handled 1,450 calls. This is the highest call volume per officer in the Salt Lake Valley.
“We’re hoping we can get 10 officers so they don’t have to go from call, to call, to call,” Davis said.
So far in 2018, the overtime that was paid to keep the minimum number of firefighters active at one time amounts to $117,000. That’s potentially a year’s salary for a couple new officers.