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AFD opposes use of Medical Response Units as budget-cutting tools

Monday, June 21, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr has written a memo to her department announcing her intention to cancel what would have been a pilot program for the use of Medical Response Units (MRU) in the city. The move came just after Kerr found out that the units were again employed on a list of possible budget cuts which, if enacted, would serve to replace fully-staffed engine outfits.


“Let me be clear that I DO NOT support the use of MRUs as a replacement for any apparatus,” she wrote. “The sole purpose of our pilot project was to gather data to see if the MRUs helped lower response time for apparatus responding to fire calls, not as a replacement for an engine company.”


Kerr told In Fact Daily that the letter was to “assure (the) organization that this was only a pilot program” to see what it might look like if the MRUs were used in addition to current units. When they appeared as a budget cut, she says she “elected to stop the…program.”


Battalion Chief Bob Nicks, who heads the Austin Firefighters Association called the proposed MRU substitution a “credible threat to service.” He noted that he felt that it had been placed on the 2011 cut list “without a whole lot of thought put into it.”


Officials with the city’s budget office acknowledged that the 2011 reduction list included un-exercised cut options from this past year. Indeed, Leigh Byford, a budget analyst senior, told In Fact Daily via email that “budget staff worked directly with department staff to revisit the Menu of Reductions from FY 2010 and analyze the remaining options that were not accepted as reductions last year.”


“During the vetting process, some of the items from last year that were not accepted were not viable options for FY 2011 and were removed from the FY 2011 list,” she continued. As an example of that fact Byford cited “three potential (Austin Fire Department) reductions on the list that were not accepted.” Those, according to Byford, “consisted of eliminating specialized monthly pays for Certification or Education level, Special Assignments, or Bilingual skills.”


“In 2008, the Austin Firefighter’s Association rejected a proposed contract with the City and the City was therefore not obligated to pay these in FY 2010,” she said. “Since then the Association and the City have signed a new contract agreement and the City is obligated to pay these in FY 2011. These items were removed from the 2011 reduction list because they are no longer viable options.”

MRUs are smaller units designed with a focus on medical calls. According to the city’s online budget site, “(the) proposal would affect two stations that currently have two companies for fire response, replacing one Engine with a (MRU) consisting of three AFD personnel.” There, the city admits that “this may have a negative impact on response times to non-medical emergencies, and the amount of time required to assemble an effective firefighting force.”

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