Special Reports

EPFD Concerns: Burnout, a sense of entitlement and a need for more female firefighters

EPFD Concerns Burnout a sense of...

EL PASO, Texas - Burnout, a sense of entitlement and a need for more female fire fighters are some of the concerns raised in the El Paso Fire Department's 5-year strategic plan.

The 55-page document gave members of the community and firefighters a chance to weigh-in.

Joe Tellez, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 51, says times have changed and in the past "in the fire service we were bad about documentation and writing stuff out and having plans. Respond to the emergency. Take care of it and come back."

Now, Tellez says, "in this day and age with more accountability, transparency, the limited resources, we have to justify how and what we do and I think the strategic goal does that."

The plan was put together by Battalion Chief Kevin Dieter after receiving input from citizens (external stakeholders) and firefighters (internal stakeholders). "We review some of the goals monthly. Some are reviewed quarterly and some are reviewed annually," said Dieter.

Mario D'Agostino, Fire Chief of El Paso Fire Department added, "you need to know what the outside thinks of how you are doing and where they'd like to see you to be. even what your internal work force is thinking."

Some external stakeholders saw apathy and burnout as an area of concern.  ABC-7 was told that's related to paramedics.

"The personnel on the ambulance some of them feel like they are burning out or the perception is that they are burning out, but we are always trying to make sure that we are not burning our employees out and trying to reduce that apathy and make sure that's not a critical issue," said Dieter.

Chief D'Agostino added, "talking to my crews I'm not hearing it. It's something we look for. Something we're constantly looking out for. We have a lot of systems in place. The employee assistance program. We have counseling. We have peer support teams. We got gyms. We have all sorts of training and tools from diet creation. You name it to make sure our employees stay healthy."

The department has 919 firefighters, 34 neighborhood fire stations and a combined 80 trucks and ambulances.

Stakeholders also brought up staffing as a concern. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the recommendation is four firefighters on every rig, but in El Paso it's 3 firefighters on each truck.

"Staffing I think we're good," said Tellez.

"Of course you always want to go to 4 but you have to consider what does that take? You have to be sensitive to the taxpayer because firefighters are expensive. It takes a lot of money to train them and they get more valuable as they progress through the ranks so were cognizant of that."

"That's a recommendation," stressed Chief D'Agostino, "There are some departments who do staff four on an apparatus. We staff three and it works well for El Paso. If you look at El Paso's fire statistics, we're running 80,000 calls on average a year. Very minor amount of fires. We don't have the structural fires."

A lack of female firefighters was also raised as a concern. "Human resources has been developing a female mentor program," said Dieter. The department currently has 19 female firefighters. 

"They have the youth program so we can impact women at a younger age so we can start to work toward developing them to become firefighters. So, we've been doing different things. It's just hard to start building that number."

A way to potentially add more female recruits is to have female only facilities like at Station 5, which has a female's only locker room and an additional dormitory providing more privacy.

"It's a national deal," said Tellez, "It's not just El Paso. It would be nice if we could have more women that would apply and get on the job."

Another concern raised was a sense of entitlement, which Tellez described as a "generational thing."

Tellez said with more millenials joining the department, retirement benefits and job security have taken on less importance.

"Nowadays, with the generations that are in the work force, they look more at time off. They are not that interested in promoting. They value their time off above pretty much anything else," said Tellez.

Overall, both the Chief D'Agostino and the union president are happy with the strategic plan.

"I think the document as a whole I liked it. It sets goals and it's revamped yearly," said Tellez, "I think you need to aim high and it at least gets us in the direction. Some of them are ongoing and hopefully we'll be able to address all of them, but it sets a path."

Among the strengths laid out by stakeholders: New fire stations constructed and located well. New technology. The training academy. Incentive pay.

Among the goals is to have firefighters visit every 2nd grade class in the county to teach the young students about fire prevention and fire safety.
 
According the Fire Department, there are only four cities in the country with populations of more than 500,000 to be designated ISO Class 1 and receive International Accreditation.

The El Paso Fire Department is one of those four and that in turn should reduce our home insurance costs.