Pasco County Fire Rescue Department should better use volunteer firefighters and move to a single dispatch system to help deal with budget shortfalls, according to a consultant.
The wide-ranging, 113-page report released late Friday was put together by International City/County Management Association, which last June received a nearly $50,000 contract to do an intensive study of Pasco Fire Rescue. The same firm is getting $323,240 to help the county come up with a new budget process.
Commissioners will talk about the fire rescue report at a workshop scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday at Pasco Hernando Community College's Executive Conference Center in New Port Richey.
"The department provides a high level of service with a limited budget," the report says. "The challenge for the future will be maintaining the existing levels of service with diminishing financial contributions generated through property tax and other funds."
The report notes that financial shortfalls in the department have put the return to two-person engines back on the table. Pasco County had worked its way up to enough staff to send three firefighters on the trucks sent to fire scenes, a staffing level that still is one person short of national standards.
Between June 2008 and July 2009, the department fielded 51,735 noncanceled calls. Of those, only 10 percent were for reported fires. The other 90 percent were reporting medical emergencies.
"Therefore, for the majority of the calls, moving to fewer persons on engine companies would have no effect on meeting standards," the report says.
But for those 10 percent of calls, the higher number of people on a truck, the better.
For fire purposes, the report says, additional companies and rescue units must be deployed to get the proper number of people at the scene.
That means getting eight two-man units vs. the five three-man units to the scenes.
So volunteers to help backfill stations will be even more critical, the report says.
Stations are located throughout the county, with volunteer departments absorbed into the system.
But the current setup does not work well. "The use of volunteers is not efficient or effective," the report says.
The consultant recommends combining the existing volunteer units, assigning volunteers to low-density areas and giving them better training.
The report also addresses the dispatch system. Pasco Fire and Rescue is the primary answering point for calls. Calls for police services are relayed to the sheriff department dispatch, which occupies a space separated by an office wall. Most cell phone calls, even if they are made within cities, are relayed first to the county dispatch center.
"This disjointed service delivery has the potential to lose calls or take longer to process," the report says.
The consultant recommends consolidating the dispatch centers and leaving its operation to the county fire rescue department. Pasco Sheriff Bob White has been lukewarm to previous talk of consolidating dispatch centers.
The report also identified shortcomings in department technology and its billing records.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.