Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Closing Eleven

Mayor Beutler released his budget proposal yesterday for the upcoming fiscal year, 2011-2012.  There is a $9.3 million gap between revenue and the cost of producing exactly the same services next year as last year.  The Mayor proposes to fill that gap with a combination of further budget cuts and some relatively small tax increases.  As I mentioned last week, Lincoln is at a decision point: the easy cuts happened a long time ago, and from here on out, the cuts bring a certain amount of pain that Lincoln's citizens are going to have to face.

Among the more dramatic cuts is the Mayor's proposal to close Fire Station 11, which serves the Arnold Heights/Airpark neighborhood, home to around 5,000 residents and a thriving industrial/commercial area.  Geographically, this area is somewhat isolated from the rest of the City by a sprawling cold-war era nuclear bomber base that now serves as the Lincoln Municipal Airport, the Nebraska Air National Guard base, and a commercial/industrial tract.  The old airbase functions like a large lake: you can't drive through it, you've got to go around it. There is no bridge.

There are no hospitals in Airpark, no nursing homes, no drug treatment centers, no homeless shelters, nor any of the other major facilities that generate large numbers of fire and rescue calls.  As a result, Station 11 is something of the Maytag repairman of Lincoln Fire & Rescue, with slightly over 300 calls for service in 2010.  By way of comparison, the average of Lincoln's 14 fire stations is around 1,500, and the busiest station cracked 6,000 last year.

A bean-counter would immediately realize that from a strictly managerial standpoint, a fire station at the bottom of the list with a volume less than 25% of the average, and only half that of the next lowest station, is the logical cut. It's not, however, quite that easy.  Serving the residents and businesses in Airpark is going to be quite difficult without Station 11.  The next closes stations, 13 and 14, are all on the opposite side of the lake, and the travel time will increase by upwards of five minutes--into the 7-10 minute range.  Moreover, pulling those units from such a great distance has a persistent domino effect on their regular service areas: if Engine 13 responds to Airpark, it would now be more than five minutes out of position if something occurs in its normal service area.

Google "flashover" and "cardiac arrest" so you can see for yourself what the extra response times means.    The solution to the Station 11 dilemma might lie in re-configuring the location of fire stations in Lincoln.  Build a new firehouse further south, and Station 11 might be able to serve the growing workload along West O Street and Interstate 80, while still providing effective response to Airpark. We are presently engaged in a study to determine the potential impact of some strategic relocations like this in Lincoln.  This is a future solution, however, and the budget gap looms right now.

The quirky manner in which Lincoln developed is no one's fault.  The geography, however, puts public safety in a predicament.


Anonymous said...

Could those residents build and finance a fire station? Or are so many of those units "Govt sub house structures"?
What about federal cash hand outs? Would not that money be better used for fire protection than putting all those bike racks on the Star-Tran vehicles?
Another point, after all the cash was handed out, much like on the old TV show "Lets Make A Deal" We see now that our Congress is locked up on a budget and the Chinese are wondering if they are going to get paid. They, the Chinese, quit buying USA bonds some two years ago, they saw this coming. Are our local leaders as financial smart as they are?

Steve said...

How many of those 300 calls were emergencies that might have become tragic events had timely response not been available? Couldn't they leave one vehicle and a couple of people out there, rather than a fully-manned and equipped station? At least, there would be someone with EMT abilities and perhaps fire rescue abilities, if not the ability to put out a fire. Even so, they could probably improvise and at least slow a fire's progress until other help could arrived.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Director-Just curious. Of the 300 CFS at Station 11, how many were actual fires needing big trucks, and how many were medical emergencies etc that could be handled by a reduced staff on a Squad instead of an Engine? Would it be possible to reduce staff/equipment and still keep the station open? How about cross-training cops in that area for basic EMS/Paramedic and equip the police cars with defib equipment etc?

I'm sure you have ideas about this. Interested in your thoughts.


Tom Casady said...

Steve and 256-

It's 90% medical emergency calls and rescue calls (mainly car accidents)

Those are just the kinds of things we'll have to consider if this happens. 256, as you know, there's not always an officer out there, either.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could work out some kind of a deal with the Air Guard, I am sure they have personnel with training that firemen and EMTs need.
An air ambulance by helicopter could use the existing heliports at the Lincoln Hospitals. I am sure there would be a lot of legal red tape issues but from a pure logistical stand point this might be the best solution.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

I lived out in Air Park back in the '80's. It always felt like we were living on the moon out there!

Anonymous said...

actually, the airbase has their own fully staffed, 24-7 fire department. Not sure about EMT's though.

Anonymous said...

I agree with gun nut.

Perhaps it would be possible to contract with the air guard fire station in the base. They could respond to serious fires/medical issues. (I don't think they have ambulances tho)

Station 13/14 could handle the "i have a bad head ache/stomach ache/ stubbed toe calls, and the like (low priority calls).

Anonymous said...

Well, after watching a lost LFR fire engine drive my neighborhood for several minutes with its lights and sirens activated, I now understand their high response times. It was apparent that they were lost, as they drove up one street and down the next looking for their call for service. They need to know the neighborhoods they are required to respond to. Knowing your neighborhood, like police officers do, will cut back on lengthy response times.

A 10+ minute response time is absurd, especially when the fire house is less than 2 minutes away.

Now, I'm not picking of fire-fighters, but if they needed rapid medical attention, they would expect a quicker response time.

Tom Casady said...


If you have the details (location and date), I'll be happy to look into this one.

Engine companies don't go anywhere without a good map. LF&R carries detailed zone maps for the entire city at a pretty granular scale. The dispatcher gives you the zone number while you're grabbing your turnout gear, and it's a click to launch the zone 191 map.

Dispatchers can also vector you in with information about cross streets and with verbal instructions: "South of Old Cheney Road, off 53rd Street--but you'll have to take 52nd southbound to get to 53rd."

On balance, I think its more likely that a police officer gets lost trying to find Ascot Circle than a fire rig. The engine company has a captain who can read the map and navigate, whereas the police officer has to drive at the same time.

It is more likely, in the situation you described, that the dispatch information was inaccurate or vague. If I had the proverbial nickel for ever ytime I was sent to "D" Street when it was actually "E" Street.... and you'd be amazed at the people who 1) don't know their own address under stress, 2) can't spit their location out under stress 3) are lost themselves.

Many times I've driven around in circles while the communications center tries to call back or clarify a location.

mike said...


I was wondering, your new position, did you have prior notice of it, or was it a short term (less than 30 days) notification and move?

how does it provide long term reitrement benefits, I am correct to say you were in law enforcemeent for a long time, this new job will NOT offer retirement package correct????

just wondering how this effects the budget of lincoln ....

Tom Casady said...


Less than 30 days, so it was all very quick for me.

I was not in the police pension program. The police pension allows you to retire at age 50 with 25 years of service at 62% of your base salary. Since I started at age 20, that would have been a mighty nice deal for me, had I not left for the Sheriff's Office before coming back to the corner office at LPD.

City if Lincoln department heads are in their own program, so my retirement hasn't changed. It is a defined contribution plan, rather than a defined benefit plan. As part of my compensation, the City makes a contribution equal to 12% of my salary into what amounts to a 401K.

Dave said...

As you said, Airpark is an island with no bridge. Instead of closing Station 11, why not downsize it. Maybe instead of an Engine there, put a brush truck there as an initial response vehicle, staffed by 2 person.

Better yet, Station 12 doesn't appear to get a whole lot of calls for service, why not shutter that station as a compromise. By closing Station 12, you would have support in the area with the other stations, such as Stations 4,6 and 7. Additionally, in a bad situation maybe Southeast Fire could pick up some calls.

Just some things to think about. I'd hate to see Airpark, so far out there, without fire or medical protection nearby.

Anonymous said...

I have started the official "Pitch in and help" Lincoln program.
It works something like this.
I had some small and large brush and tree obstruction blocking the traffic view as you enter the intersection of 23rd and Q Street going north. After having my view obstructed for three weeks many times a day I decided to get off my behind. So this morning, with lopers in hand, I cleared the obstruction in about ten mins in all. Rather than send a city crew of two or three out, putting up worker ahead signs and consuming fuel of a large truck, I took the plunge. I must say that doing a bit of service for the city is not an award type event. It is something that we all should consider doing as the financial picture gets more bleak for our city. A big problem we all have is we depend on our city services to "get things done"....We all forget that those services cost money. My small contribution cost nothing other than a few bug bites and the strange looks from a few passer by folks who wondered what was going on. They depend on that corner to look like a jungle. Neighbor Works is not keeping the weeds and tree growth in check and does not have the resources to do so, I would guess. Those offices are right accross the street from that location.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the 'lost LFR truck', it was on NW 12th/NW Gary to W. Custer St. I believe it was on the 12th or the 11th, but not positive.

Again, I'm not trying to pick on anybody. I'm sure people get lost in confusing neighborhoods, but the Highlands are not confusing. Very possible, however, that dispatch 'goofed' on the call.

Not a huge deal...unless it's my house on fire!

Anonymous said...

Re: Lost Fire Truck

If that is the call that I am thinking of, I heard it on the scanner. LFR wasn't lost, the calling party was lost and actually gave the wrong address.

Anonymous said...

Can you let the public know exactly how a typical fire fighter spends their 12 hour shift? What are the expectaions during their downtime? Is this downtime logged?