CORPUS CHRISTI - About 10 times each month, the Corpus Christi Fire Department gets a medical emergency call and it has no ambulance to send.
The addition of two new ambulances should help, officials said, but at Tuesday's City Council meeting, council members denied a budget request from the firefighters union wanting 16 more firefighters, or four per shift, to man the equipment.
That means Fire Chief Robert Rocha will go ahead with his plan to pull one firefighter/paramedic off eight firetrucks, reducing the current four-man teams to three-man teams, he said.
Carlos Torres, president of the local chapter of Texas State Association of Firefighters, doesn't like the safety implications. He thinks firefighters and the public will suffer from spreading resources.
Torres said studies suggest that in firefighting an engine staffed with three people is 33 percent effective, a four-person engine is 66 percent effective and a five-person engine is almost 100 percent effective.
Rocha said he has been charged with doing more with less, and getting the most efficiency out of the staff he has, which includes 96 positions that need to be filled each shift from his 414 firefighters.
"Really the need for increasing our ambulance capacity is tremendous, and we've finally gotten to where they are approving the two additional ambulances," Rocha said. "The association wants 16 new positions but the city manager has said use existing staffing, so I am using people as efficiently as possible."
Four out of every five calls the Fire Department fields are medical, leading Rocha to put resources on ambulances rather than firetrucks.
They get an average of 16 or 17 calls per ambulance per day, with some days reaching between 25 and 30 calls, and the workload has been classified as the highest category of stretched resources by national standards, Rocha said.
"Right now the ratio of ambulances per citizen is 1 per 33,800 residents. With two more ambulances it gets better, down to 1 per 27,000 and change. It's still a tremendous call volume," Rocha said.
While council heard from members of the union, Councilman David Loeb suggested there should be a Fire Department master plan to reference moving forward.
"I think we should spend the next year figuring out what's our plan going forward," he said. "We're a very spread out city and don't have a huge amount of tax base, so it's hard for us to have an exceptional level of fire service and coverage because we're so geographically spread out. I hope this is an opportunity to start a conversation and not end one."
After thanking Torres for addressing the council with his concerns about staffing, Mayor Nelda Martinez agreed with Loeb, saying discussions should remain ongoing, but the funding isn't available this year.
"I have great confidence in city manager, Mr. (Ron) Olson and in Mr. Rocha. It was important for everyone to communicate what they had to say, and that's our job, to listen," she said.
Rocha said he will be able to hire about 30 or 40 more firefighter/paramedics from the academy next year, he said.