Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran
Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

By Kelvin J. Cochran, Atlanta Fire Rescue

The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD) has begun implementing its five-year strategic plan, which is comprised of 10 strategic initiatives that embody many environmental factors and influences.

Aligned with Mayor Kasim Reed’s number one priority –Public Safety – our initiatives would provide a safer city by enhancing firefighting services, strengthening emergency medical capabilities, increasing special operations and hazardous materials response capabilities, enhancing firefighters’ health and wellness, improving facilities, motorized fleet, and working conditions.

Each initiative is the product of an all-hazards community risk assessment, which revealed gaps in departmental capabilities and the impacts of those gaps in providing services to our citizens, employees and others. In addition, an environmental scan was conducted to assess industry and global trends in fire, EMS, rescue and homeland security services. We have achieved a plan which accurately forecasts the needs of the department for the next five years.

The following long-term strategic initiatives represent the focus of our FY2012 – FY2016 strategic plan:

1. Improve all facilities conditions for fire services in Atlanta by 2016. Current assessments reveal that 14 fire stations are beyond their designed life-cycle. However the department has made significant strides towards the goal of improving facilities, with the opening of five stations in the past year.

2. Establish a replacement schedule for engines, aerial apparatus, specialty apparatus (heavy duty trucks) and staff / support (light duty cars and trucks) vehicle fleet. Most of the present fleet is beyond its life-cycle, with excessive service outages. To reverse this trend, an Office of Fleet Services apparatus replacement schedule has been implemented. Equipment is being replaced in the following phases: Phase I: a ladder truck and two pumper engines, Phase II: a ladder truck and a command vehicle, and the Philips Arena fleet initiative, which includes two ladder trucks and three pumper engines.

3. Increase staffing for the AFRD Fire Training Academy. During FY2011, the academy gained six new positions, increasing the training staff with the addition of two captains, two lieutenants, and two civilians, placing this initiative within our reach.

4. Compensate members commensurate to their duties and responsibilities while establishing a competitive salary edge in the region. Atlanta Fire Rescue’s salaries for sworn officers are comparatively below other regional departments with similar sizes and logistics, leading to a voluntary reduction in certified paramedics and trained in hazardous materials technicians. Addressing this would result in a reduction in voluntary turnover, an increase in qualified applicants, and a definitive increase in morale among members. The department is moving closer towards the goal of comparable regional and national salary levels, as demonstrated in the in the 2011 budget, when firefighters received a 3.5 percent increase in their salaries.

5. Develop and implement a health and wellness program by 2016. To date, AFRD has not established a dedicated health and wellness section. Consequently, there has been a decrease in fitness and readiness which, over time, could lead to an increase in Worker’s Compensation claims, an increase in disability pension and use of excessive leave.

6. Enhance the level of Emergency Medical Services in Atlanta by 2016. AFRD has 21 basic life support engines and 10 advanced life support engines. The department has increasing staffing for EMS oversight by the addition of six Paramedic Captains, who provide 24-hour supervisory access for advice on evolving or difficult medical incidents.

7. Ensure that AFRD is effective and efficient in its emergency preparedness and response system as it relates to domestic preparedness including, but not limited to, all hazards, natural or man-made, and any terroristic-type disasters.

8. Hire and maintain qualified sworn and non-sworn personnel. In addition, it is critical that AFRD provide its members with competitive salaries, benefits, and opportunities to add value to their personal and professional lives. Administrative functions require members to assume multiple job responsibilities often times resulting in errors or inadequacies. The staffing shortages in administrative areas result in an increase in pay discrepancies and personnel transactions.

9. Increase apparatus staffing levels. In February of this year, the department was awarded approximately $9.8 million dollars in federal grants, providing funding for 75 sworn members.

10. Properly staff and organize special operations, which provide special resources beyond firefighting services.

The department recognizes the financial challenges currently facing our city and we are consistently mindful of any and all foreseeable fiscal impacts and implications when querying data and compiling cost projections. Currently, most of the plan’s components are unfunded; however, a fiscally responsible and well-communicated strategic plan positions AFRD and the city of Atlanta in a position to maximize unanticipated financial gains and to more accurately plan for unfunded needs.

Kelvin J. Cochran is the Fire Chief for the city of Atlanta.