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Fire Service Concerned with Growing Overtime

“Overtime is always a concern with the Virgin Islands Fire Service,” Fire Service Director Victor Browne said in his testimony before the Senate Appropriations and Budget hearing Tuesday, “and this year was no exception.”
Browne attributed the large amount of overtime, approximately $413,000 so far this year, to the number of people eligible for retirement and also a number of personnel being deployed by the military.
Browne estimated that approximately twenty firefighters will retire by December 2009 and another twenty deployed with the National Guard, including the fire chief.
With the departure of many captains, lieutenants, corporals, and sergeants, firefighters will be promoted to fill those positions, leaving the Fire Service with a need for entry-level firefighters.
Browne also told the senators he is concerned with the condition of the fire stations.
“The Fire Service has been operating in buildings which do not meet prevailing standards,” he said.
Browne told senators construction on the Dorothea fire station has begun and should be completed in 2010. The department has also acquired property to build a new fire station for Hotel Company on St. Thomas.
On St. Croix, work has begun on the mechanic shop and is approximately one third of the way toward completion.
Fire Service is still working on acquiring property to build a new and improved Charles Tappy Seales facility and a training center.
An ongoing issue has been the ventilation system in the Frederiksted fire station.
“It is a health and safety issue," Senator Samuel Sanes told Browne. "I am surprised that OSHA has not come in and shut it down.”
Browne had a letter requesting completion of the ventilation project hand-delivered to Lester George, a principal in the company performing the work. A return receipt letter sent previously was returned.
The governor’s recommended appropriation for fiscal year 2010 is $20,327,616. The department is also expected to receive $380,770 from local funds. The appropriation includes $13,971,242 for personnel services, $5,115,913 for fringe benefits, $836,461 for other services and charges, and $404,000 for utilities. They have applied for a forestry grant in the amount of $200,000.
The department generates income by conducting fire inspections but said it is not conducting as many as it should due to a staff shortage. Between Oct. 2008 and July 2009, a total of 412 business license inspections were conducted on St. Croix and a total of 870 fire safety inspections were conducted on St. Thomas, with 170 of those for business licensing. They collected $257,000 in inspection fees throughout the territory.
Fire Service needs more firefighters to be trained as EMTs but the Department of Health has been unable to provide trainers.
“Get the firefighters EMS-trained and certified." Senator Carlton “Ital” Dowe told Browne. "Don’t come back here without that being done.”
Present at Tuesday’s hearing were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Dowe, Wayne A.G. James, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Nerieda “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilley, Usie R. Richards, and Patrick Simeon Sprauve.

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