CRESTVIEW—A request for a budget reallocation by Fire Chief Joe Traylor to achieve his department’s top priority budget request was rebuffed by the city council at its Monday evening meeting. The fire department hoped to convert a part-time dispatcher into a full-time position to provide more adequate staffing.
Explaining the necessity of the position, Traylor described the sequence of events that leads to his department’s response to an emergency, beginning with a citizen’s call for help that is answered by a dispatcher at the Woodruff Avenue main fire station.
“This position is one of the key elements in starting that chain of events,” Traylor said. “That’s why my staff determined this is a priority.”
Traylor stressed that he was not asking for additional funds.
“What I’m asking is to take the money within the fire department budget that was approved to reallocate it based on the priorities that we submitted to the budget process back in June, and defer the lower priorities,” Traylor said. “The number one priority was to take our part-time dispatcher full time.”
Traylor said the fire department’s dispatch staff is “limping along” because it is understaffed, with trained firefighters sometimes having to fill in as dispatchers when a shortage occurs.
“We have certified people waiting to move into position,” Traylor said. “This position has a history of turnover. It’s not about the individual; it’s about the position. We have six people covering 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are more hours than there are people. Somebody ends up working overtime or we pull a firefighter in.”
Councilman Charles Baugh Jr., saying he was playing devil’s advocate, questioned why, among budget reallocations Traylor proposed, he would defer buying new sets of protective gear.
“I don’t feel comfortable taking clothing and equipment from the firefighters,” Baugh said.
“I find it incredible that you think I would put any firefighter at risk by not providing protective clothing,” Traylor responded. “We bought protective clothing last year and we did the year before….At no point did we not have anybody who didn’t have good, certified clothing.”
“Chief, I respect your judgment,” Councilwoman Robyn Helt said. “I just wonder why you didn’t raise this in the budget hearing when we were scrambling to find money under any rock, nook or cranny.”
Traylor said the dispatcher position was clearly indicated as his department’s top priority in a June 4 letter submitted to the council and city clerk. When it wasn’t funded during the budget process, he and his staff began finding a way to locate the money within the budget that was allocated to the fire department.
By eliminating some communications equipment, the uniform allocation, and firefighter physicals, which are already covered under each fireman’s city-provided health insurance, and estimated fuel savings under a cooperative purchase agreement with the county, Traylor and his staff found $27,000 to fund the position.
“Once we attained a balanced budget, we didn’t ‘find’ money, we reallocated,” Traylor said. “Our priorities changed. I haven’t changed the budget.”
Councilman Tim Grandberry moved to approve Traylor’s adjusted budget, but for lack of a second, the motion died.