Early signs indicate the Maplewood Fire Department’s transition from a part-time to a full-time department in the past three months has been smoother than the messy lawsuit it spawned.
But it will take a while longer to see if the switch helps the department meet the goals promised by the City Council when it made the change.
The council voted in January to move the department to full-time status after a study it commissioned showed it would better serve residents as call volumes grow.
While 911 calls have been slightly higher than normal of late, response times have stayed on target, said Fire Chief Steve Lukin.
“There are always a few challenges when you’re hiring new people and teaching them the Maplewood way, but we couldn’t ask for a better transition,” Lukin said. “Our customers, our residents didn’t see any significant changes.”
Helping matters is that Maplewood was able to hire six of its 22 former part-timers, who were already familiar with the city and the department, Lukin said.
The city let go of 16 part-time firefighters and created nine new full-time positions. The department now is staffed with 27 full-time firefighters who typically operate on seven-man shifts.
The part-time firefighters settled their lawsuit with the city over who would get the $1.5 million surplus in the pension fund, which was terminated during the transition.
The parties agreed that the firefighters, whose length of service ranged from eight to 28 years, each would get a lump sum of $11,000 per year of service, up from $10,000. They also agreed that all would be fully vested.
The city hosted a reception last month to recognize the service of the 16 former part-timers.
Maplewood officials found they were spending from $8,000 to $15,000 to train and equip each of the city’s part-time firefighters. It took about 20 part-timers to cover equivalent hours for three full-time firefighters, the city said.
Council members said that training money would be better spent teaching a full-time staff about the latest advances in firefighting and emergency medical care.
The department also launched a pilot program to reduce its number of nonemergency medical calls, which can keep paramedics and first responders away from more serious emergencies. The program started in August, so it’s too early to gauge the results.
Under the program, the department’s medics check in on patients who have recently left the hospital to make sure they have what they need to make appointments and that they take their medication.
“With these low-acuity calls, it’s because people are missing their appointments because they don’t have transportation,” Lukin said. “So they didn’t take their medication for a while. So we’re hoping to get to them right away, when we’re not on a call, to help them navigate the system so they don’t have to call 911.”