CASA GRANDE — The Casa Grande Fire Department revealed a plan for the future to the City Council Monday night that includes possibly relocating three existing stations and adding an ambulance service.
Fire Chief Scott Miller told the council that rather than adding an entirely new station that would have to be filled with new staff and equipment, the department is looking at the possibility of relocating three of its stations along with the equipment and staff.
Those stations include Station 501 on Florence Boulevard, Station 502 on East Ninth Street and Station 503 on Piper Avenue at Casa Grande Municipal Airport.
Assistant Chief David Kean said all three stations need to be replaced because they’re old, worn out and don’t meet federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for fire departments any longer.
Station 501 was built in the 1950s and added on to in the 1980s, Miller said. Station 502 was built in 1995 and is made of stucco and wood that isn’t very durable. The station can be expanded but doing so wouldn’t add much value to the existing station, he said.
Station 503 at the airport is a 40-year-old classroom trailer that was donated to the department by Casa Grande Union High School, Miller said. The trailer is past its lifespan and the airport would like to use the site for new hangars.
The department is using new Deccan software it purchased about three years ago to determine the best locations to relocate the three stations, Kean said. The software uses call log and mapping data to calculate where to locate fire stations so firefighters can respond to an incident in the shortest amount of time.
Miller suggested that the council consider a $20 million general obligation bond issue, possibly in 2021, to help purchase the land and build three brick and mortar fire stations to replace the three older stations. Each station would cost between $4 million and $5 million, he said. The remaining funds would go toward building a new training facility to replace the one that would be lost at Station 503.
The department is also still considering the idea of starting its own ambulance service, Miller said.
In 2015, the department tested a low-acuity medical emergency pilot program, he said. The program involved setting aside a couple of medics at Station 501 who responded in a separate vehicle to nearly all of the minor non-life-threatening medical calls — bumps, scrapes, bruises — the department received during a three-month period.
The pilot program picked up about 20% of the call load out of the station, Miller said. This allowed the department to keep the fire engines and trucks in the station for more urgent calls, reduced the amount of fuel the department used and decreased response times for calls.
Creating a more permanent low-acuity medical emergency program at all of the city’s stations would be a great way to transition into a full-time ambulance service, Miller said. The savings in fuel and wear and tear on the larger trucks could cover most of the cost of an ambulance program, he said. But the department would need to hire at least six new firefighters for the program.
The cost of hiring the six firefighters, along with four other positions the department needs to fill, would be covered by a new $1.7 million SAFER, Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response, grant the department was recently awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Miller said. The grant could cover the cost of a low-acuity program for three years, allowing the city to build up its ambulance service experience and revenues while applying for a certificate of necessity through the Arizona Department of Health Services to operate a full ambulance service.
Mayor Craig McFarland and Councilwoman Lisa Navarro-Fitzgibbons said they liked the idea of a low-acuity response program but questioned how the city would be able to fund it in the long term.
The city has been considering adding ambulance services to the Casa Grande Fire Department for at least a couple of years. However, a third-party study commissioned by the city shows the city may lose money on the service. The study predicts that income from the ambulance service may decline in the first five years, from a profit of $28,804 in the first year to a loss of $71,898 in the fifth year.
Indirect savings from the city already having the supplies, equipment and buildings on hand to staff and stock the service could eliminate that fifth year loss and replace it with $827,000 in revenue.
The city already has a private ambulance service, American Medical Response, which has said that it will fight any attempt by the city to apply for a certificate of necessity with ADHS.
Fire Department staff could bring a request to apply for a certificate of necessity to the next council meeting on Oct. 21.