During Debate Over DFR Dispatch Schedule, Rawlings Warns About Too Much Meddling

Categories: City Hall
MikeRawlings_CityHall.jpg
Photo by Sam Merten
The council's wrapped up straw-voting on those budget amendments, one of which involved those changes to Dallas-Fire Rescue's dispatch scheduling. Sheffie Kadane had proposed leaving the schedule as it is now: with DFR employees working one 24-hour shift, followed by 72 hours off. Because, he said, going City Manager Mary Suhm's route -- four 12-hour days, with three days off per week -- "would be devastating," echoing the sentiments of those DFR workers protesting the changes.

Suhm took issue with Kadane's proposal: "We have recommended the best schedule, which is what you hired us to do," she said. "Y'all asked us to be creative and look for efficiencies, effectiveness, and that means change. You've changed people's salaries, people's jobs -- some don't have jobs anymore. And I understand people are upset about change. I get that." That said, she told the council to stick with what she's recommended -- and if they need to revisit in the subject in nine, 12 months, fine, "we'll look at it."

Scott Griggs asked Suhm: "What is ineffective and inefficient about the current schedule?" She reiterated what she told us: "It has a lot of requirement for break time, which creates overtime, [and] we don't need to be paying that overtime" -- $1 million, to be precise.

"I think we as a council have to be clear about what is a management issue and what is a policy issue," said Ann Margolin. "And this is a management issue, and we should not be inserting ourselves into this."

Suhm reiterated: "Change is hard," but, in this case, absolutely necessary.

Mayor Mike Rawlings concurred -- with Margolin, with Suhm.

"We have to decide what we are going to do as a body," he said. "Do we set budget and strategy and policy, or do we get into the details of the city manager's business? Sometimes we have to step back to do our jobs well, otherwise we'll get into the scheduling of people all over City Hall, which is a dangerous thing to do. Those are my two cents."

With that, a vote was taken -- and the motion failed. Which means, I assume, Wednesday's protest is still a go.

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28 comments
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 mick
mick

What is the total for Burns-Siri up to now ....

BCulbreath
BCulbreath

Falling from tail gate of truck, laying on ground at car wash with broken bone in server pain.I realize how important staffing ratios are.We have no way to measure car accidents,fires,sick calls and etc.Managers decision has to be on safety for FD and citizens not money. City bill me $800.00 for taking me to Baylor,no IV,aspirin just ice pack and two EMS.Greenville Ave @Lovers to Baylor Gaston $800.00. Sure was happy getting there..

 mick
mick

BCulbreath,

If that was to happened to next month you can call for an ambulance and will possibly be on hold for who knows how many minutes before you get help.  And if it happens to occur when a storm is blowing through like this small one the other night.  Your  looking at least 3-5 minutes before your call is answered.  Suhm is very interested in the libraries being fully funded so call Fire Dept then Police Dept then Library.  Library will surely be able to help as long as you are not screaming in pain, quiet policy and all.  Please call your council person and complain advise not to vote for this change.  Suhm and this genius accountant (ex-DPD cop) has rope-a-doped the council into thinking this is gonna be a money saver, just like the fiasco of paying us in comp time,  the public is not aware that there is over 10,000 hours of comp time owed and to be used by 2015.   That in turn creates more comp time, she has set up quite the little pyramid scheme on the backs of 40 hour uniformed fire personnel.  Her new accountant is ex-DPD that does know not his as# from a hole in the ground.  The last meeting about the shift change Suhm was asked if this is a cost savings, her statement was that it was cost neutral.  Neutral is code word for I hate Fire and Police cause when I was a Librarian they got everything and I got nothing but unpaid late fees,  Payback time is here:   at the citizens peril........

MickTURK 182 

cp
cp

Yeah let's be perfectly content with sticking our heads in the sand and just trusting whatever the hell Suhm wants to do. While we're at it, let's only have council meetings once a quarter because, I mean, come on, how much time do we really think we need to be spending on setting policy? And take away all the council committees and the council salaries since setting policy isn't a full-time job.

I swear, this city doesn't know what it wants to be...

Schnoodle
Schnoodle

"Change is hard," but, in this case absolutely necessary.  Mary's right. We need to change the city manager.

John2247
John2247

I just can't get over the part about  Sheffie Kadane actually doing something.  Anything.  At all.

Doug
Doug

Bob...a little clarification would be helpful for those of us who love reading your stuff (and the comments)...what do the people do who are being referred to in this article?  Are we talking about the actual fire/rescue people?  Or dispatchers who send them out?  Also...sorry, but who is Sheffie Kadane? 

Dragonfighter
Dragonfighter

They are firefighters and paramedics who process 6000 runs each every year.  Many have over thirty years in the service and some carry the scars of there time on fire engines and rescues.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Dispatchers are not happy that the city is going to change their schedules and reduce their overtime pay. And Sheffie Kadane is a longtime council member.

Mick
Mick

What overtime pay.... since Oct. 2010 there is no overtime ... it is Comp Time now, unless you reach a max. accrual of 480 hours then you will receive Overtime pay per federal law.  The Meet and Confer agreement states that Comp time not used by 2015  just goes away.  Missing the point if you think we are not happy about OT going away.....  reduced staffing and a new schedule that is cost neutral per CM, what is the point .... 480 hours times 48 people (23,040 hours) is a lot of free work for the city since you  are denied using comp time. 

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

DFR should do like the Police 3 shifts a day in a work week fashion with alternating off days.And the police  have at least 9 dispatchers on the air most of the time. And folks to take up the slack during breaks and lunches .

DFR Has an automated alarm voice to  Call out the Trucks and Rescues out then 2 other two way frequencies for the Rescue and Apparatus to talk with.

Old Tige
Old Tige

Townie, there are nine DPD dispatchers due to the number of channels they use.  DFD has two primary radio channels - Channel 1 for Fire & Channel 2 for EMS.  Also, DPD dispatchers do not answer 911 phone calls, DFD does.  They are also required to be certified in EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch) to provide pre-arrival instructions to callers on ALL EMS calls.  The call volume in DFD rises each year.  DFD has stats that show we dispatch cheaper per call than any other major city in the country.  If you have ever worked a 12 hour shift, then you should understand the added physical stress this places upon the dispatchers (in addtion to the mental stress).  If you want to operate our public safety (police & fire) on an "odds are nothing bad will happen", be very careful for what you wish. 

Mike
Mike

If Mary Suhm is doing a poor job, then do what is your job: replace her. Otherwise stay out of management decisions. Soon we will be hearing about how busy the Council is and how they need higher salaries. That is ridiculous. They are a board of directors. If they spent more time setting goals and holding Mary Suhm accountable, we would have a better city and they would not be so busy.

Maybe if they spent less time worrying about delivery routes, they could try keeping an eye on the City Attorney. He could stand some supervision unless our goal is to have the largest legal expenses per capita in the Western Hemisphere.

Alan
Alan

Over 150 years, firefighter unions have established the premise that every station must be fully staffed for the worst possible incident at every moment of every day.  So there's extra firefighters to cover in case one is in the bathroom when the alarm sounds.  And every sick or vacation absence is covered, even a doctor appointment.  To fill all those vacant moments requires millions in overtime, which is still cheaper than even more firefighters.  I doubt this ever made sense, but it certainly doesn't with modern building and fire codes, sprinkler systems and safe wiring.

OldRelic
OldRelic

Good point Alan. When planes fly into skyscrapers, it's the "modern building and fire codes, sprinkler systems and safe wiring" that keep things from going badly. I suppose you don't insure your car or home, either. After all, what could go wrong?

L_Streets
L_Streets

Just for the record, it doesn't matter if you are in the bathroom or in the shower, you're on that fire engine/truck/ambulance before it goes out the door.  During your 24 hour shift you are available 24 hours.  

derrick
derrick

scheduling is a basic function of effective management.  Allowing a shift structure to exist that has built in overtime and excessive breaks is stupid.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Yeah, I don't get it either.  Sometimes Suhm is actually right about stuff.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Being from Oak Cliff must make me thick about this , Why are these folks hours structured like they are working at a fire station ?

derrick
derrick

Perhaps there's a real reason for the shift structure, but it seems awfully inefficient.  Overtime is built in.  There is deminished return built in, if for no other reason, than based on the length of the shift.  I don't see how this can be better for fire fighters or for citizens.  It certainly isn't better for the city balance sheet.

derrick
derrick

Please read my reply to dragonfighter.

derrick
derrick

The funny thing is that you seem to be automatically assuming that I am "for" the city manager and "against" the fire fighters. I never said that.  You state that the shift structure exists, for two reasons.  1.  It's been understaffed for decades.  2. It's structured like a fire station, which really translates into "that's how it's always been done".  Let's set aside the overtime factor for a second, because it appears to me, that this is really why people are finding this to be a contentious issue.  When you structure a shift where people are working for unnaturally long periods of time, the law of dimishing returns comes into play.  There comes a point in the day where no matter how brave, hard working, and ethical a person is, they simply aren't able to do the job as well, because they are both physically and mentally fatigued.  It's not only bad business, it's unfair to the workforce.  That's what I mean when I say the system is inefficient.  It is a logical conclusion to draw that inefficiencies also cost money.  Those inefficiencies take more than one form.  Overtime, accidents, and cost are all a simple bi-product of inefficieny.  If anything, I would argue that money saved from gained efficiency should be rolled back into the workforce (higher wages, additional employees, etc).  When I say something like, "allowng this shift structure to exist is stupid", I don't imply any disrespect for firefighters.  What I imply is that the management that allowed this structure to exist in the first place, is stupid.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but that ends up right back in the city managers lap at some point. 

cp
cp

I dunno, maybe we'd be better off after all if fire fighters all took off their scheduled shifts (to avoid overtime) in the middle of fighting fires and such. I mean, this all makes sense on paper, right?

I mean, think about it: if we were to let the Mary Suhm style of magament govern the locar ER's, then we should all be much happier with a shift change in the middle of our kid's emergency appendectomy...

Also, didn't the city manager just "find" something like $1.7 million in the budget??? Pound foolish anyone?

Dragonfighter
Dragonfighter

Overtime is not built in.  Vacancies which cause the overtime has existed for decades with the City Manager's stance that it was cheaper to pay time and a half then hire enough people to handle the work load (approx six thousand emergency calls per firefighter in communications).  It is structured like a fire station because it is with trained firefighters and paramedics taking the calls and providing instruction to those in need while the help is on the way.  Also there are labor issues, as a fire station they can allow more hours per week than if they remove that classification.

You do not hire overtime help for people who are present, the "required" break time is really a standby time in which a member can step away from their station but must be ready at all times and at a moments notice.  This standby time has been forfeited many times to handle the extreme work loads of storms and other disasters. 

The final issue is this, fire departments are an "in case" situation, they are the "red button".  So preparedness has been the standard.  Staffing apparatus is so that a fire or other emergency can be quickly mitigated and lives saved.  The same in communications except there has to be enough to handle a quarter million runs a year regardless of system failures, multiple alarm fires or whatever.  The cost savings is from a reduction in staffing, the schedule has no impact one way or the other.  This reduction in staffing will not provide overtime when personnel are off sick, vacation or whatever.  Your assistant city manager said, "We are willing to roll the dice." So when you are on hold to 911 for 5 minutes or more while grandma is dying or your baby is choking because now there is a major storm, dispatch system failure or other massive problem, remember those words and remember how inefficient you thought the schedule was.

Ray
Ray

$1 million in overtime is the 'cost of doing business' or in this case 'cost of saving your ass' so I think the wise thing to do is for Suhm to let this go and pretend it never happened. As much as I think Sheffie is a crazy old coot, on this he's right. Let's see who else is ballsy enough to stand up with him.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

This is a tough one.  On the one hand, council shouldn't be meddling in these sorts of details.  On the other, Suhm appears to be an incompetent, manipulative, and less than honest city manager.

The best solution would be to replace her.

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

Suhm has proven that she is a poor manager in the past - look at all the idiots working (or truthfully, NOT actually working) under her.  See the IT manager who has resigned for hiring fellow church members but who stays on the payroll the rest of the year.  But the city council should not be meddling by mandating job shifts and job assignments.  The city council does not exactly have a record of good management either and micromanagement is one of its problems (lord knows how many incompetent city council relatives and fishing buddies are employed in city hall).  If they don't like what Suhn is doing - that there is much to debate there - then fire her and get someone else in.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Suhm is an idiot. Thats all im saying at this point...She needs be be let go..

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