EMS interim chief optimistic about future of the department
Friday, February 11, 2022 by Amy Smith
With 124 vacancies that need filling to round out the medic force, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services is applying a variety of methods to try to close the gaps, interim Chief Jasper Brown told the City Council Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
Brown delivered an update on staffing levels and the functions of each rank, which served as both a refresher for Council members and a primer for new District 4 Council Member Chito Vela. He and Council Member Paige Ellis are the newest members of the committee, joining Chair Natasha Harper-Madison and Vice Chair Mackenzie Kelly.
Brown noted that the next briefing to the committee could present a different picture as the Austin EMS Association continues negotiating a new contract, with talks centering on staffing levels, promotions, the reduction or elimination of mandatory overtime, and a more competitive pay scale. City negotiators have already rejected the union’s initial pay proposal, but the two sides are working toward a salary level acceptable to both sides.
While Brown’s perspective on negotiations is from a management view, he says he’s optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations. “I think there will be good things that come out of it,” he said, referring in this case to barriers to successfully recruiting medics from outside of Austin. The barriers range from pay scale to requirements to achieve rank within the department.
The interim chief also pointed out that the newly hired EMS chief, Robert Luckritz, will be making the decisions once he takes the reins in March. Brown, who has served as interim chief since June 2021, will play a key role in the transition.
Committee members and some others in attendance (Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and Council Member Ann Kitchen) thanked Brown for his service and for guiding the department through the worst of Covid-19 times and Winter Storm Uri.
Until the new chief’s arrival, Brown will continue with the programs that have recently been implemented, such as the pilot program started in January to “incentivize volunteerism” by doubling the pay for those who step up to work overtime, thus reducing the unpopular mandatory overtime policy now in place.
“We’ll evaluate (the pilot) as we go along to see whether it stays or continues,” Brown said. “We’re trying to incentivize those who really want to work and not those who are either scheduled or don’t want to work (overtime). So far, it’s been very positive.”
Brown also updated the committee on the steps taken to transition the department to a community public health model by working more closely with Austin Public Health and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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