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City: Fire Union Healthcare Costs Prevent Purchase Of New EMS Unit

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood address City Council about the department's fiscal budget for 2016

As the City of San Antonio analyzes next year's budget, it says the unresolved Fire Union contract is costing the San Antonio Fire Department an extra $6 million in healthcare costs per year.

The city claims those healthcare expenses are keeping the fire department from buying a needed EMS vehicle and hiring the 12 paramedic staff to support it.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the City Council the new vehicle and staff would cost about $1.8 million per year which is not in the 2017 budget.
“We are carefully analyzing and looking at ways that we can be more effective with the use of our dollars in making changes -- inefficiencies within the budget -- having said that we would have to cut something else.,” Sculley said.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood says the extra EMS unit would lower response times city-wide by nine seconds by not having units travel as far.

“We’re not talking about one particular area, we’re talking about what that does to the whole system because I’m not having ambulances respond outside of (Loop) 410 into the city or vice versa," Hood says.

Current response times are just under eight minutes.The fire department currently has 33 EMS units operating 24 hours per day.

The San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association disagrees claiming health care costs are preventing the purchase of needed fire equipment. Union Vice President Chief Mark Black says the city has refused to provide documents so firefighters can independently verify how much their healthcare is costing the city.

"Referring to the City Manager comment about health care costing $6 million per year in Evergreen, we have a tough time believing that. Part of the reason is our CFE requested a Funds Summary document via Open Records Request over a year ago, and the City has failed to divulge this critical financial data.  This is basically a listing of where the City has all their money, and how much they have in each account at any given point in time.This is part of the reason for our countersuit alleging unfair bargaining. The healthcare cost reference is completely unrelated. Ms. Sculley might as well say her staff costs are keeping her from adding a life saving EMS unit to the budget."