Scottsdale Fire Department approaches 10-year anniversary

 

The Scottsdale Fire Department celebrates 10 years of service this July. (Photo courtesy of SFD)

The Scottsdale Fire Department celebrates 10 years of service this July. (Photo courtesy of SFD)

The Scottsdale Fire Department celebrates a decade of service July 1. But the relatively young age of the department does not reflect the years of experience its firefighters bring to Scottsdale.

Until 10 years ago, Scottsdale relied on Rural Metro Corp., a private contractor, for fire and emergency services. When Rural Metro announced in 2004 they would not bid for renewal of their contract in Scottsdale, city officials were left with 18 months to design and staff an entire fire department.

“So that’s when things really started to happen,” recalled Deputy Chief Jim Ford in a phone interview.

Mr. Ford worked his entire career in Scottsdale, first as assistant fire chief for Rural Metro and later transferring into the Scottsdale Fire Department as a deputy chief.

Mr. Ford recalled the city’s efforts to assemble a fire department in a short timeframe. While Scottsdale owned all existing fire stations, the city lacked much of the equipment necessary to run a fire department. They had no hoses or ladders for the trucks, and no televisions, beds or kitchen utensils for the stations.

Scottsdale had to purchase approximately six miles of fire hose and have it delivered before the expiration of Rural Metro contract, Mr. Ford remembered. In addition, the Human Resources Department was suddenly faced with hiring over 250 staff members in just over a year’s time.

Jan Dolan, city manager at the time, reached out to her contacts and hired the city’s first fire chief, William McDonald. Mr. McDonald brought with him his immediate staff. From there, a panel was formed to schedule initial interviews for the remainder of the department’s staff.

Mr. McDonald interviewed each final candidate personally, Mr. Ford said. Even fire fighters transferred from Rural Metro’s Scottsdale service, like Mr. Ford himself, were required to submit new applications, undergo background checks and interview for the position.

The result is what Mr. Ford calls a “mixed bag.” Transfers from Rural Metro, firefighters from other Arizona cities, and even one man from Georgia created a diverse and well-experienced fire department.

“All of that had to happen. And it did. And it did simultaneously,” Mr. Ford said. “It was amazing at midnight on July 1 to flip that switch with no interruption.”

Scottsdale fire fighters put themselves in harm's way to protect the residents of Scottsdale.

Scottsdale fire fighters put themselves in harm’s way to protect the residents of Scottsdale.

Hit the ground running

Scottsdale’s current Fire Chief Tom Shannon was working as assistant fire chief to the Glendale Fire Department at the time. He moved to Salt Lake City for one year before returning to Arizona as Scottsdale’s emergency manager, eventually accepting the position of fire chief in 2012.

One of Chief Shannon’s goals was to have the Scottsdale Fire Department included in the Phoenix Regional Automatic Aid System. The automatic aid system is a partnership between cities that allows the closest vehicle to respond to an emergency call regardless of jurisdiction.

Tom Shannon

Tom Shannon

For example, if a Tempe fire truck happens to be closer to an emergency call than any Scottsdale fire truck, the Tempe truck will respond to a Scottsdale resident’s call for help –which is exactly what happened after Scottsdale became a member of the system.

The very first emergency medical call after Scottsdale became a member was answered by a Tempe truck, Mr. Shannon said in a phone interview. The automatic aid system was fully recognizing Scottsdale as a member of the municipality.

In 2009, the Scottsdale Fire Department was celebrating its 5th anniversary, but had not yet completed all of the prerequisites to become a member of the system.

“Scottsdale was the most centralized municipality that was not a participant,” Mr. Shannon remembered.

Through efforts by his predecessors and himself, the Scottsdale Fire Department became a member of the automatic aid system during Mr. Shannon’s time as chief.

Mr. Shannon has another reason for wanting to include Scottsdale in the automatic aid system. Approximately two-thirds of Scottsdale is sparsely populated rural areas, land preserves, and undeveloped land. While Scottsdale owns 15 fire stations, the area they must cover in large and long.

“The ability for the closest unit to respond without having to ask for help, or subject to their availability, is immeasurably valuable,” Mr. Shannon said.

A constant evolution

Since its birth, the Scottsdale Fire Department has undergone a number of changes, including coordinated regional training.

When fire departments participate in a coordinated training program, staff members across multiple departments receive the same training, Mr. Ford said. An example is all mountain rescue staff training together so that all jurisdictions operate the same.

This is important when a person from the Tempe fire department responds to a call in Scottsdale because it guarantees the Tempe responder will perform the same tasks in the same way as a Scottsdale responder.

“It makes a more streamlined process,” Mr. Ford explained. “I think we’re much more efficient. I don’t think there is any other department that provides the customer service we do. Our residents expect more, and we constantly deliver.”

Another change in the fire department’s future is an amended retirement program, Mr. Ford pointed out. The Scottsdale Fire Department is relatively young, yet many of its staff have decades of experience and are reaching retirement age.

“As a department we are only 10 years old, but a lot of experience came here with the transition. So we are young by department but old by experience,” he elaborated.

This creates a problem because many of the department staff qualify for retirement in age but fall way short in years of service.

This may mean bridging the gap between age and years of service, but will also require the hiring of new folks into the department – something Mr. Shannon says the department needs anyway.

Since its birth, the Scottsdale Fire Department has grown in terms of staff, stations and equipment; including Fire Station 2 built in 2006, and a new truck for Fire Station 8. But even after city council’s approval of 12 additional staff members for the new budget year, the fire department is about six short of full staffing, Mr. Shannon said.

“We have yet to achieve the number of personnel required to fully staff the trucks,” he explained.

A fire department needs a minimum of four people per truck, which means many of the department’s current firefighters are working overtime to fully staff the trucks.

It’s a fine balance to not fatigue the firefighters, Mr. Shannon continued.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the men and women in the department,” Mr. Shannon added. “I would challenge any fire department to provide the service we do. Our mission statement is ‘We Care For You,’ and the people in this department really do care about the community.”

Ms. Walker is a freelance journalist under contract with the North Valley Office of Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA

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