The top priority of Payson's Fire Department is getting more dispatchers at the police department.
Fire Chief John Ross said he would even be willing to put some of his $1.8 million budget toward securing enough people to have two dispatchers on every shift.
The dispatch center plays a critical role in the emergency services offered by the town, including providing triage -- ordering the level of assistance sent out on calls.
Ross shared this priority with the Payson Town Council Jan. 29 during its policies, procedures and program review of the fire department.
The review is part of the council's Corporate Strategic Plan work this year.
Ross and Fire Marshal Jack Babb made the presentation, giving an overview of the department's organization and operation.
During 2002, the fire department had 2,002 calls. Most were medical calls -- 1,459 or 73 percent.
The number of medical calls was a point of discussion by Councilors Robert Henley and Bryan Siverson.
Siverson suggested the number of calls the department responds to could be reduced if the ambulance service were dispatched when appropriate, instead of the town emergency services.
Henley wanted to know if there was any way the fire department could charge residents for the medical calls it responded to.
"We are the first responders," Ross said. He said the way the 911 system is set up, the fire department is dispatched, then it calls in the ambulance if it is needed.
While the two paramedics that go out on the department's medical calls can deal with health-related issues, the ambulance is called for the majority of the transports to Payson Regional Medical Center.
Ross said it was not possible for the town to charge for the medical calls the fire department goes on, however, he would discuss having more of the calls directed to the ambulance company with its owner.
Fire and medical emergency services are naturally the main focus of the work done by the Payson Fire Department, but personnel also devote man-hours to prevention operations. This segment of the fire department work includes education, engineering and enforcement.
Education is achieved through a variety of presentations and programs conducted at area schools and throughout the community.
Engineering is review of plans for new and remodeling construction -- anything which requires building permits from the Community Development Department. The plans reviewed also include site development and fire protection systems.
Enforcement involves annual inspections, fire apparatus access, fire hazard complaints and special events.
Siverson questioned the annual inspections. He said he thought annual inspections of businesses are not the best use of personnel time. He suggested that those businesses with minimal fire risks -- those that do not make use of chemicals and other flammable or hazardous liquids -- need not be inspected annually. Siverson said businesses with low fire risk could be inspected only every five years.
Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer said she was very grateful for the annual inspections.
"Annual inspections are mandated by the fire code," Ross said.
A related issue to the inspections is the fact that the fire department has been without a fire inspector for about six months.
"We reassigned our fire inspector to serve as a battalion chief when we opened the fire station on Rancho. It was necessary to have a full complement of staff," Ross said.
He explained that the federal government mandates that in all fire calls, when two firefighters are inside a structure, there must be two on the outside. That regulation was at the root of the reassignment.
In his presentation, the fire chief said a fire inspector's duties would include plan reviews, public education, construction inspections, building inspections, complaints management and code enforcement. He estimated the salary for the inspector would be $31,451.
The fire department also is a major player in the Regional Payson Area Project, an effort to address the growing urban-wildland fire hazard in Payson and the surrounding Rim country communities. The project includes education, fuels reduction and working in concert with other firefighting operations in the area.