Results Released of Comprehensive and Independent Study of Wilmington Fire Department

Posted on  01/07/2013 4:58 pm

Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker today released the findings of a comprehensive study of the Wilmington Fire Department by Berkshire Advisors—an independent, management consulting agency that specializes in evaluating the effectiveness and governance of police and fire organizations throughout the United States.

“This evaluation was commissioned to ensure that the City is providing effective and efficient fire protection services to the citizens of our City,” said Mayor Baker. “The report, funded with public dollars, contains valuable suggestions on ways to improve the management of the Wilmington Fire Department, which, as the study notes, already provides a high level and quality of service to the citizens of Wilmington. I realize that this report will now be evaluated by the new Mayor and by the new City Council President and Council Members. As they review the findings the Administration and Council may feel the need to add more data and information to the data already contained in the report, in order to come up with a reasonable and comfortable assessment of the worth of the study. I understand that it is now the responsibility of the new Administration and Council to move forward with the findings as they see fit.”

Mayor Baker said notable among the results of the department evaluation is a validation of his Administration’s decision to implement the rolling bypass policy in Fiscal Year 2010. A rolling bypass means that one piece of fire equipment is taken out of service from a different fire station around the City each day in an effort to reduce personnel costs. To date, the policy has reduced overall Fire Department costs by approximately $3.5 million.

The report by Berkshire Advisors confirms that the rolling bypass has had zero impact on the time it take firefighters to respond to a fire or to the ability of firefighters to battle a blaze once they arrive at the scene of an emergency; in fact, the independent study recommends removing a second piece of equipment each day for additional savings without jeopardizing public safety.

In addition to the rolling bypass issue, Berkshire Advisors recommends eliminating a Battalion Chief position which could save the City about $110,000, and discontinuing the current shift differential—the practice of paying firefighters more money for working evening and overnight shifts—which could amount to a savings of about $125,000.

The study recommended a number of other initiatives, including:

  • that Battalion Chiefs be subjected to a formal review process (written test, oral interview) in order to improve the quality and consistency of management.
  • that training be increased for firefighters, and that an officer training and mentoring program be established.
  • that a mandatory physical fitness program be established for firefighters.
  • that the hours a firefighter works each week be increased to 48.
  • that new approaches to funding and replacing fire apparatus be adopted and that new approaches to funding the Department as a whole be explored.

Although it was not part of the City’s original fire study RFP issued earlier this year, the Berkshire Report also looked at the method by which the City currently provides ambulance services to citizens through a contract with St. Francis Hospital. The study supported the current Administration’s management of this program. The report concluded that it is unlikely that the Wilmington Fire Department would be able to provide Basic Life Service (BLS) emergency medical response and transport services at a lower cost than the current agreement with St. Francis Hospital and suggested that the Fire Department submit a bid for providing this service the next time the contract is up for renewal in order to have a true “apple to apple” comparison of costs.

The Berkshire Advisors concluded that if the recommendations in the report were implemented, staffing within the Fire Department could be reduced by as many as 52 positions.

The Berkshire Advisors study was based on a review of Fire Department data and upon in-depth, on-site interviews with City firefighters, including current Fire Chief Willie Patrick, incoming Fire Chief Anthony Goode, numerous battalion chiefs and rank-and-fire firefighters.
The Berkshire Advisors also interviewed Members of Wilmington City Council and Wilmington citizens.

Mayor Baker commissioned the $59,500, two-month study in October; the final report was submitted to the City last month.

Read the complete report by Berkshire Advisory here.