The Roseville Fire Department wants to double the number of firefighters it staffs on some daily shifts to fill coverage gaps that leave the city’s sole fire station empty several times a day.
Chief Tim O’Neill is asking the City Council to hire nine more firefighters, which would allow the department to schedule eight people on each shift. Officials estimate that nine firefighters would cost between $800,000 to $1 million to hire and train. To raise that money, Roseville would almost certainly need to increase its property tax levy.
Fire officials are planning to present the council in late February with funding options and potential hiring timelines.
O’Neill estimates that, on an average of seven times daily, the four or five firefighters on duty each shift are all out on calls at the same time, leaving no one at the firehouse to immediately respond to the next 911 call.
If all firefighters are out when an emergency happens, the department either relies on “call backs,” bringing in off-duty firefighters, or requests help from a mutual-aid crew in a neighboring city. In either case, the problem is the time it takes to respond, O’Neill said.
“In 2018 it took us an average of 25 minutes to get our call-back people in here on a truck and to the scene,” he said. “That is simply too long.”
Like many suburban communities, Roseville has recently switched from a part-time to a full-time department. Since 2014, the city has had 17 full-time firefighters who operate in three shifts, with five firefighters ideally on duty for each shift. The department often operates with a four-person shift when someone is taking time off.
The department has seen a steady climb in 911 calls over the past 12 years, jumping from under 1,000 responses in 2006 to about 5,000 in 2018. The increase is largely because of medical calls. But daily staffing has remained the same over that time, with four to five firefighters on each shift.
Having eight firefighters on a shift would give the department enough people to staff a second engine ready to take a call when one is already at a scene. In the case of an actual open-flame fire, one engine could start suppressing the fire while a second crew works on rescue operations, O’Neill said.
Additional firefighters also would help whenever there are multiple calls at once, as was the case on Dec. 26 when the firehouse received two calls within a few seconds of each other. One was for a fire at a townhouse on the east side of the city, while the other reported an apartment filling with smoke on the west side.
The Roseville fire crew had to choose which emergency to take and ask Falcon Heights firefighters to respond to the other, O’Neill said. The Roseville crew was at the scene of the townhouse fire in under 3 minutes, while the mutual-aid responders coming in from Falcon Heights were on the road for 20 minutes, he said.
“Of course, this doesn’t happen a lot, but once is too many if it’s your house on fire and we can’t get anyone there for 20 minutes,” he said.
Mayor Dan Roe said he believes the city will be able to find the money to make the hires, whether the nine are brought in at once or phased in over several years.
“I think it’s doable,” Roe said. “On top of the service level to the community, we have to make sure we’re keeping the firefighters themselves safe. If they’re called to a fire and don’t have the adequate number of people, we don’t want to put them in jeopardy.”