Government News: Public transit
Ensuring the safety of its citizens remains a top priority for government agencies. As the cost to do so continues to rise, some cities are taking action by merging emergency services, such as police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS), into a central public safety department. This all-in-one concept aims to save money and improve the service provided to its constituents.Although emergency service consolidation has its share of benefits, some police, fire and EMS personnel have cited some valid concerns—namely, the vast difference consolidation would have on job duties, the increased need for training and the public’s perception of dual-duty officers. If your community is considering a consolidation, you may want to take a look at this e-newsletter. It not only explores the benefits, but it also discusses the challenges some may encounter along the way. Keep reading to find out more.

The benefits of emergency service consolidation
Whether a rural jurisdiction, a mid-size municipality or a large metro area, consolidating emergency services and, more specifically, cross-training police, fire and paramedic personnel may have some benefits worth looking into:

  • Save money: One advantage to implementing cross-trained Public Safety Officers (PSOs) versus individual policemen, firemen and EMS personnel is the cost savings. South of the border, Bay City, Michigan, merged police and fire departments and is expecting a $1.8 million savings by 2017. Other Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming, are considering doing the same, anticipating cost savings of $17 million per year. The consolidation aims at maximizing productivity by eliminating excessive downtime, similar to the time firefighters experience between fires. Cross-trained PSOs can be out policing the streets but ready in the event they’re needed for fire protection or EMS assistance.
  • Improve service: Cross-training public safety officers essentially puts more bodies on the street, leading to increased efficiency, shorter response times and enhanced community safety. After all, everyone is fully trained and ready to respond to whatever emergency comes his or her way. This isn’t to say that the improvement doesn’t come with some challenges. Many community members may feel uneasy about a fireman toting a firearm. Or, someone participating in illegal activity who’s in need of a paramedic may be hesitant to call for fear of criminal prosecution. Counter these perceptions by creating a positive community presence of PSOs. Those policing the streets should take the opportunity to develop relationships with local business owners, community members and the like. Participation in community events, such as parades and festivals, can help break the ice. Parents might appreciate a small giveaway at these events for the kids, too, like a police car pen or a heroes watercolour book.
  • Reduce redundancy: Lastly, combining efforts can reduce redundancy, freeing up valuable resources so emergency personnel are available when and where needed. No longer will emergency calls need representatives from all departments. For example, research shows approximately 80 percent of calls to fire departments are for non–fire related medical emergencies, making a fully manned fire truck, police squad and ambulance an unnecessary display. Perhaps in some cases, a cross-trained PSO in an SUV will do.

If your agency is one that will be combining their emergency services into one, be sure you keep the community informed and in the know. Imprint the new centralized phone numbers, websites and other pertinent contact information on a magnet or lighted key tag. Send them out in community mailers promoting the benefits of your new and improved merged emergency services.

Remember, public safety is always a top priority. Finding ways to improve upon it is a win for all.

Chomicz, Dorothy. “Fairbanks city mayor pitches plan to merge police, fire, emergency services into one department.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. N.p., 24 Mar. 2012. Web. Retrieved 16 June 2014.

Newcombe, Tod. “Are Police and Fire Department Mergers Catching On?” Governing the States and Localities—Urban Notebook.N.p., 08 Aug. 2013. Web. Retrieved 16 June 2014.

Wilson, Jeremy M. and Grammich, Clifford. “Police consolidation, regionalization, and shared services: options, considerations, and lessons from research and practice.US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. N.p., 01 Feb. 2012. Web. Retrieved 16 June 2014.

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