After fleet, city will turn to the Fire Department for more savings

Just starting their engines

| June 12, 2013
Actual vehicles aside, Chief of Staff Laura Neumann says pensions are where 'the rubber hits the road' for the city.
Actual vehicles aside, Chief of Staff Laura Neumann says pensions are where 'the rubber hits the road' for the city.
- File photo

Up to now, Mayor Steve Bach has laid off people here and there. But last week, he took out 59 employees, an entire department, by outsourcing the city's fleet maintenance.


"It's not to get rid of the people," Bach's chief of staff, Laura Neumann, tells the Independent. "But it is to get rid of the pensions. That's where the rubber hits the road for us here at the city."

The city participates in the statewide Public Employees' Retirement Association, as well as in special police and fire pension plans. Its annual payment for all three plans has gone from $12.2 million in 2003 to an expected $25.8 million this year. City-owned Colorado Springs Utilities has seen a similar rise.

If negotiations go as planned with private contractor Serco, the city will be able to subtract fleet from the pension equation starting Jan. 1, saving an estimated $225,000 per year for 10 years. Which, of course, is a relative drop in the bucket.

So ... who's next?

Well, as Neumann puts it, "I have been charged with looking at every single department for optimization and potential outsourcing." And the city already is seeking a consultant to study staffing of fire operations.

On the trucks

On May 20, the city posted a request for proposals for "fire services best practices." Proposals are due Monday; Neumann says the city wants a consultant to "verify that our present staffing model serves our taxpayers well."

To justify the outside analysis, the RFP notes, "In the wake of recent catastrophic fires, the City of Colorado Springs wishes to conduct an operational audit of its fire department and all fire services to ensure that the department is efficiently utilizing and maximizing City resources, properly staffing and training personnel, and fully promoting fire safety, prevention and enforcement."

The RFP calls for bidders to evaluate:

• recruitment and retention;

• effective communications within the department and with other city departments;

• rescue, fire-code compliance inspections, fire prevention, emergency medical response and hazardous materials response;

• and assessment of local fire risks and long-range planning based on those risks, and training firefighters to preserve arson scenes.

Another factor the RFP will cover is "the number of firefighters on a truck," Neumann says via e-mail, all but confirming rumors that Bach might be interested in reducing staffing on fire apparatus.

The National Fire Protection Association, a leading advocate of fire prevention and an authority on codes and standards, calls for a minimum four firefighters on an engine or ladder company. According to the NFPA's online Q&A about standards, "If they only have three firefighters, they aren't going to be able to do certain things safely." That's because the two-in/two-out rule requires that firefighters work in teams of at least two when in hazardous situations. Two must be outside the hazardous area, monitoring the activities of the two inside the hazardous area.

"If the first-arriving company has only three firefighters on the apparatus, it means that the company can't do interior firefighting until a fourth person arrives," the Q&A states.

Manny Navarro, Springs fire chief from 1994 to 2008, says the city's policy requiring four on an apparatus was adopted following a 10-fatality nursing home fire in 1991 wherein not all companies had four firefighters.

"We brought up the minimum staffing for every fire company," he says via phone from his division fire chief job in Menlo Park, Calif. "And this resulted from a community-wide discussion."

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 president Jeremy Kroto says in an e-mail that Local 5 will withhold comment until it's notified of the findings by the outside consultant.

Disappearing fleet

One fire department arrangement will remain unchanged, at least for now: Fire apparatus, such as pumpers and ladder trucks, will remain in the hands of a few city workers due to their certification requirements and complex systems.

But another 4,500 city and Colorado Springs Utilities vehicles and pieces of equipment will be maintained by Serco. In the next 90 days, the city and the United Kingdom-based megafirm will try to hammer out the details of the arrangement. Assuming it goes according to plan, the fleet department will be dismantled and its employees laid off.

Serco might hire some of them back, Neumann says, but the contract won't mandate that. Nor will it mandate that Serco invest in local companies, though city fleet has spent millions of dollars a year with roughly 100 local vendors.

The Springs' fleet department has earned a reputation for efficiency; it's been named to Government Fleet magazine's "100 Best Fleets" for nine years running, including this year. But outsourcing is where such operations are going, says Len Gilroy, director of government reform with the libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation. A 2007 study, he says, showed roughly 25 percent of local governments outsource fleet.

"Vehicle fleet maintenance is not inherently a government function," he says. "We're talking about the same maintenance you and I go to the market for.

"Last year, the National League of Cities put out a report saying we've had six straight years of revenue decline," Gilroy adds. "Local governments are still reeling from the impacts from the recession. That always prompts governments to start looking at alternatives, such as going to the private sector."

The city made such a move last year, when voters approved the lease of city-owned Memorial Health System to the University of Colorado Health. Now the Springs is in a lawsuit with PERA, alleging the city owes nothing toward Memorial's 4,000 employees' retirements. PERA argues state law bars the city from leaving without paying for future benefits, and that UCH paid the city $185 million for that purpose. It further argues that should the city prevail, PERA's local government division will have to make up the difference, a potential budget catastrophe for those agencies.

As of today, PERA isn't arguing that the city's fleet workers deserve the same treatment. But PERA attorney Adam Franklin says PERA is checking to see if "there are any compliance issues presented."

Assuming there aren't, the city projects operational savings of $666,666 per year in the first three years. But severance packages are estimated to eat up $700,000 of that. And Neumann acknowledges that the city's incurring a human cost, too.

Within 90 days, she says, she will unveil "some sort of plan for our 2,100 employees, so they will know what will be considered and what won't be, so at least to put some peace of mind to the troops."


Comments (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7

"...the National League of Cities put out a report saying we've had six straight years of revenue decline," Gilroy adds. "Local governments are still reeling from the impacts from the recession. That always prompts governments to start looking at alternatives, such as going to the private sector."

"Going to the private sector" is no panacea, nor should it be the first/only alternative. Mayor Botch has tried no alternatives, he just jumped into bed with SERCO.

When your "strong mayor" comes into office backed by billionaires whose intent is to destroy as much of government as they can, at all levels, the intent soon becomes clear. Just about every bit of COLO SPGS government will be sold off or contracted out before we can get this maniac out of city hall. I warned about this.

report 31 likes, 3 dislikes   
Posted by OldCrank on 06/12/2013 at 12:43 PM

Colorado Springs employees, ESCAPE!

report 15 likes, 2 dislikes   
Posted by Algernon Moncrief on 06/12/2013 at 4:51 PM

Mayor Bach ... dismantling community one job at a time. What a douche. And they wonder why the Springs is circling the drain.

report 22 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Zen on 06/15/2013 at 10:58 AM

I believe the City should end negotiations with this business headquartered in a Foreign country and step back, take another look and the REAL numbers of so called cost savings vs value and get PERA down here to explain to the people how them numbers don't work.

report 11 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by IonU on 06/18/2013 at 8:48 AM

Mayor wants to OUTSOURCE EVERYTHING! ALL City employees should be worried about there jobs.

2013 Executive Branch
Breakthrough Strategies
Executive Branch Administration
 Lead pension reform: Form a Pension Solutions Team no later than January 2013 to propose and
gain support for legislation result in sustainable pension plans and reduce the City’s pension
 Support an increase in private sector civilians employed by an average of 6,000 per
year by being the most business and citizen friendly city of our size in the United States
of America.
 Develop a definitive plan to continue outsourcing and implement community partnerships to
provide park maintenance services by Q1 2013.
 Increase road and stormwater maintenance: Add $2 million more in stormwater and $2 million
more in Streets capital projects to be completed by private contractors.
 Streetlights, Bus Service, and Snow Plowing: Turn on the remaining 3,500 streetlights, provide
comprehensive streetlight analysis/recommendations to Mayor; add evening bus service; and
test Phase II of outsourcing of snow plowing by close of Q1 2013.

report 3 likes, 2 dislikes   
Posted by IonU on 06/18/2013 at 9:08 AM

Watch what kind of fire Chief Bach brings in, whoever they are they will be a head hunter with no loyalty to the CSFD, their only loyalty will be to the Mayor. The number of firefighter will be reduced to 3 per truck and an explanation will be given that says because we have such good coverage of the city that it will only take a few seconds for another truck to arrive with 3 more firefighters. More trucks mean more firefighters, besides the tiny number of fires we have in the city doesn't justify the huge firefighting force we have now.

Studies will be introduced that show that a smaller firefighting force is more affordable and every bit as effective as having 4 firefighters. We have just been through 2 huge wildland fires in the past 12 months, this is what a study from California found.

A study by Matt Rahn, director of research and education at SDSU’s College of Sciences’ Field Stations Programs.
The study, conducted over eight months, timed Cal Fire firefighters in drills in which they laid fire hoses for 100 feet, 1,000 feet and 2,000 feet.

In a typical wildfire incident, one crew member stays behind with the engine and manages the scene, while the rest are left to do the firefighting and laying down of the hose. With a crew of four, that leaves three firefighters to do the manual labor.

The tests found that changing a crew’s staffing from three to four increased efficiency by as much as 50 percent.

“That can mean 15 to 40 minutes of a faster response time and effectiveness, which may not seem like a lot but in an initial attack of a fire, that’s a tremendous amount of time and often means success or failure in a fire,” Rahn said.

There hasn't been a line of duty death for the Colorado Springs Fire Department for more than 100 years, if Mayor Bach does this we will have a death, maybe not on his watch but at some point in the near future. I hope the Mayor gets any firefighter death hung around his neck in the future even if he is out of office. This is bad policy from a bad politician.

report 13 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Timothy O'Hara Casey on 06/18/2013 at 8:41 PM

Bach needs to go. He is destroying our city. Companies are not going to relocate here with all the dysfunction, lack of transparency, corruption, and ties to the Koch brothers and the developers like Jenkins. He is nothing but a puppet who will do anything his puppet masters ask him to do regardless of the effect that it will have on our city and citizens. I did not vote for this corrupt mayor. Based on his behavior, allegiance to the developers and the Koch brothers, I knew it he was going to be a destructive and corrupt mayor. How are we going to grow our economy and attract businesses and jobs with this person (I would prefer to use stronger language but will adhere to the rules of the Indy). We need to seriously look at organizing a recall effort before he cripples our city, economy, and community.

report 9 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Helene on 06/19/2013 at 7:56 PM
Showing 1-7 of 7

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