October 22, 2014
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Addition of 4th rescue crew advocated by Torres
By JENNETTE BARNES
Warwick could have a fourth rescue crew as early as next year. Funds to hire personnel for the crew are likely to appear in the city budget, pending negotiations between the firefighters' union and the city administration. The union is involved because all city of Warwick rescue personnel are firefighters.
Last week, the City Council requested that the Fire Department ask for a fourth rescue crew in its fiscal year 2002 budget. Councilman Donald Torres (D-Ward 2) sponsored the resolution with support from Fire Chief Thomas Rowan.
"Last year, there were 376 occasions when we called for mutual aid from Cranston, West Warwick and East Greenwich," said the chief. He feels the city is too dependent on aid from neighboring rescue crews.
If Warwick operated a fourth rescue vehicle, it could offset the cost by responding to more calls for aid from outside Warwick. The fire department gleans revenue from billing a patient's insurance company for the service.
According to City Comptroller Ken Alfano, the department netted about $1.2 million in fiscal year 2000 from rescue runs. He said financial records differentiate between runs inside and outside the city.
Torres, a Cranston firefighter and certified emergency medical technician, said the city is losing revenue by not serving surrounding communities. The extra income wouldn't completely pay for the new rescue crew, he said, but it would help.
Torres contends that it is becoming unsafe for Warwick to operate only three rescue crews.
"I really believe the safety of people is being jeopardized," said the councilman. "We have such an influx of people in Warwick every day with the airport and the malls. It's started to become a burden."
Relying on rescue crews from other towns increases response time.
"When rescue has to drive from western Cranston to Warwick Neck, there's a time delay," said Torres, adding that Cranston has long operated four rescue vehicles, despite its lower population.
Hiring eight new members for the rescue crew would add about $300,000 to the fire department's $14 million budget, but Rowan said some existing staff could do some of the work.
"Personnel is expensive," he said. "I'm sure the administration and the union will be talking about options to staff the rescue. I think the safest thing would be a combination of hiring people and absorbing some of the work with people already on the department — some happy medium."
The fire department would not need to purchase a new vehicle right away, according to Rowan, because it already owns three reserve trucks, one of which could be put on the "front line." A new rescue vehicle with equipment would cost about $140,000.
Unlike Chief Rowan, Torres argues that the city should hire eight new firefighters rather than absorb some of the work with its existing rescue personnel. The councilman said he would defer to the chief on the question of whether the department should purchase a new vehicle.
Rep. Peter Ginaitt (D-Dist. 33), a Warwick firefighter, said the city had four rescue crews 20 years ago. But now, Warwick sometimes has three crews from other localities responding to calls here at once, he said.
The department has not decided which fire station would house the new crew. The three other crews would probably also move to keep them distributed evenly throughout the city, Rowan said, adding, "I think one rescue will go to Station 5 on Cowesett Road." Other possibilities include Station 8 on Post Road, Station 2 in Lakewood, and Station 4 in Bayside, he said.
Chief Rowan said he could give no timetable for when the fourth rescue crew would be operational if it were included in next year's budget. Timing will depend on negotiations between the mayor and the union, according to the chief.
Mayor Avedisian said yesterday that he would consider putting a fourth rescue crew in the city budget. He has not made a decision yet because of the cost involved.
"We all know it's an overall goal, but whether it will be this year or phased in over a few years, that's something we'll have to talk about during the budget," said Avedisian.
Preliminary department budgets — what Avedisian calls the "wish lists" — are due in Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski's office this week. Zmyslinski, in consultation with the mayor, will assemble the administration's budget for submission to the council.

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