For the second time in three days, a Killeen Fire Department ambulance was taken out of service because of insufficient staffing. The Killeen Professional Fire Fighters’ Association posted the news on its Facebook page Tuesday morning.
This time, just two firefighters called in sick, according to the post. But the department experienced other staffing issues.
“We have several unfilled vacancies, plus people in paramedic school are off for various different leaves,” an administrator for the page wrote.
The topic first sparked concern Sunday, when a similar post was written, and detailed the same scenario. That time, five firefighters called in sick, according to Marc Clifford, the association’s president. However, they were not all from the same station, city officials said.
Killeen has eight fire stations. Depending on the size of the station, there are anywhere from five to 13 firefighters working at a station at any given time.
The short staff can partially be attributed to the fire department’s new overtime tier-reduction policy, which the department created in response to budget cuts approved by the City Council last fall. That means additional city firefighters won’t be called in to replace those who call in sick, or are absent from work for other reasons.
Killeen Fire Chief Brian Brank could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Councilman Jim Kilpatrick took to the association’s Facebook page Sunday to blame the Herald for the staffing reduction.
Kilpatrick is head of the council’s ad hoc Audit Advisory Committee tasked with acquiring an investigatory audit of the city’s finances. Residents have demanded an investigation after hearing June 30 that the city needed $8 million to balance the budget and had been overspending for three consecutive years.
Kilpatrick was criticized in a Herald Sunday editorial for repeated attempts to keep that audit from happening. His latest move was trying to tie the audit, a tiny fraction of the city’s $202 million budget, to the fire department staffing shortage.
In his comment on the fire department’s association Facebook page, Kilpatrick said resident demand for a $394,000 management audit of the city’s finances — which is being paid through unbudgeted operational and enterprise reserve funds that are not tied to the fire department’s overtime budget — was manufactured by the Herald’s editorial staff.
The council voted 5-2 to approve the audit March 14.
On Sept. 13, Kilpatrick was part of two unanimous votes to cut the 2017 budgets for all city departments by 2.5 percent and cut overtime reserves for all departments by more than $100,000. He was the second on the motion to approve the overtime cuts.
On Monday, the department was fully staffed and operational. However, the Professional Fire Fighters’ Association expressed concern that the low numbers could cause a problem in the near future.
That future might have been nearer than some expected, however.