Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
The city of Denison has reversed course on a proposed plan to outsource its emergency medical services. In a news release issued Tuesday, the city said that after reviewing its service delivery methods, Denison will maintain its services in-house.
City Manager Jud Rex said the city made the decision to retain the EMS service as it currently operates because of feedback Denison officials received after the Herald Democrat first reported on the plan last month.
“There is a sense of pride in the fire department,” Rex said. “We should certainly share that as well. We want to continue that. (We) don’t want to change, necessarily, our model for that high level of service and that pride in the fire department.”
Rex said the option to outsource EMS came about as a business solution to the problems the department was facing. The city discussed the possibility of outsourcing EMS to a private firm last month at its budget workshop. During that meeting, Denison Fire Rescue Chief Gregg Loyd discussed the need to retain firefighters. He said the department loses a number of firefighters to neighboring cities once the men and women have received a high level of training in a short period of time.
“Our upcoming discussions with the city council will focus on approaching (the) market (salary) when it comes to pay for our dedicated professionals in Denison Fire Rescue and throughout all city departments,” Loyd said in a press release issued Tuesday.
The department currently has 12 vacancies out of a total 54 positions. The city is looking for ways to fast-track hiring of paramedics to fill some of those roles. According to a press release issued by the city, the hiring of individuals could take up to six months.
On Tuesday, Loyd reiterated the department is continuing to rely on a combination of mutual aid from partner agencies and overtime to fill its shifts. He said the department is currently actively recruiting to fill vacancies.
Rex said the council will begin discussing financial options, including pay raises, at the city’s budget meetings that will take place over the summer. He said the city is considering multiple options to address the issue of retention in the department.
“We always have an ongoing recruiting issue,” Loyd said. “We will always recruit firefighters. We haven’t run into any issues with getting those people to come do the tests to fill the positions we have. So we will just continue on that road.”
Loyd said the department had downsized in recent months in preparation for the possibility of outsourcing EMS, but it has begun the hiring process again.
“We are about a third of the way through all the hoops that have to be jumped through to get a job with the fire department,” Loyd said. “We will schedule another test, probably sometime the third week of June or the first of July. We will move forward with that test to fill the rest of the vacancies.”
At the budget meeting last month, Loyd told the council his department was down 10 positions at that time. He said there are currently eight individuals who are eligible to be hired that are in the testing process. He said the department is also looking to get some classes going in the fall with Grayson College in order to help recruit more paramedics to the department.
Loyd said he is aware with summer vacations coming up, his staff is likely to continue to run into overtime. He said there are measures in place to ensure every shift gets covered. He also said he holds regular meetings with his staff to listen to their feedback.
Rex said at each stage of the budget process, the council will consider what to do in regard to paying city staff, especially police and fire department personnel.
Richard A. Todd is the Denison area reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at RTodd@heralddemocrat.com.