Safety Last: Questions and Answers

From what I have read recently, it looks like Fire Services Director Nick Campasano is  willing to sacrifice safety to cut costs. After the July 19 The Fire Commission meeting, the Fire Commission member sent a list of questions to Director Campasano. This document has those questions, with answers from Director Campasano (underlined), answers from the Garner Fire Department Chief and the Garner Town Manager, and rebuttals from Ed Brinson, Fairview Fire Department Board member highlighted in light gray.

Here’s a summary of some of the things I learned while reading over this 23-page document.

Campasano Cuts Corners

One thing that really jumped out at me is that Fire Services Director Nick Campasano is willing to compromise on safety in order to cut costs. From a couple of Mr. Brinson’s comments:

Director Campasano fails to take into consideration the 2017 Wake County Staffing and Deployment Study that his staff prepared and was subsequently adopted by the Fire Commission. This study sets a standard of continuous staffing level of three persons per station (one less than the four persons per station previously recommended).

What’s this about “four persons per station previously recommended”?

There is a safety rule: If only three firefighters are on a scene, they aren’t allowed to go into the burning building unless they believe someone is in the building. There must be two firefighters acting as backup while two other firefighters are in the building. This rule saves firefighters’ lives. But what if they show up with only three people and they believe someone is in the burning building? Then they send firefighters into the building without adequate backup, thanks to Director Campasano. I pray to God we don’t have a tragedy come out of that policy.

I asked former Fairview Chief Donald Pierce about whether firefighters go into burning buildings when there is only one firefighter on backup, and he said “It happens all the time.” This needs to change. As Ed Brinson said:

Efforts and focus should be utilized by the County to provide 4 staff positions at each station per the Tri-Data study of 1994, the Tri-Data study of 2004, and the Wake County Fire Commission Long Range Plan of 2009. All of these recommend 4 staff per station, but in 2017 Wake County reduced this to 3 per station due to financial reasons per Director Campasano. All of these studies recommend some station closures and some new station construction. None of these studies mention closing Fairview Station 1 or Station 2, nor building a new station anywhere near the proposed location.

Campasano Wants Reduced Protection

It is clear from reading the document that Director Campasano knows very well that shutting down Fairview Fire Station #2 would reduce the quality of our emergency services. Those graphs that I showed in this blog previously? Those came from Director Campasano’s responses in this document! But he’s Ok with reduced quality of service. In his answers to the Fire Commission, he’s trying to convince them that the reduced service quality would still meet the minimum NFPA 1720 standard. But that claim won’t fly. As Ed Brinson explained:

Director Campasano publicly stated in the 2017 Staffing & Deployment Study that given the current limitations of the existing NFIRS system, he lacks the data to determine if Wake County is currently meeting the NFPA 1720 standard. At the completion of that study Director Campasano was directed by the Fire Commission to develop a system by which these identified limitations could be overcome to determine if departments are meeting NFPA 1720. This system has still yet to come to fruition. Director Campasano stated he has no intention of including the cost share departments in this system. Also, Director Campasano has stated once the system goes into operation it will take a minimum of three years to collect usable data.

If there is still no system for determining NFPA 1720 compliance, cost share departments will not be included in the system, and the system won’t generate usable data for at least three years how can we determine what this proposal will do to NFPA 1720 compliance?

In other words, Director Campasano doesn’t know if we currently comply with NFPA 1720 standards, nor does he know if we will comply after he shuts down Fairview Fire Station #2.

FYI, as a citizen of Wake County, I am Ok if we actually exceed the NFPA 1720 bare minimum standards. What problem is Director Campasano trying to solve? He thinks our emergency service quality is too good, and he’s trying to reduce it to the bare minimum he thinks he can get away with.

However, Director Campasano’s actions are in violation of the unanimously-adopted county criteria for closing a fire station: it must not reduce quality of emergency services.

Campasano Threatens to Take Our Money Regardless

When it comes to costs, Director Campasano gave us two options:

• Scenario 1 (Fairview Station 2 closes) – ~$157,000 savings
• Scenario 2 (Fairview Station 2 remains open) – ~$296,000 increase

I have doubts about the $157,000 savings, but regardless I don’t think those are worth the decreased emergency services quality. However, I have real problem with his statement that costs would increase if we leave the station open! As Ed Brinson said:

County staff’s response to this question is false. If Fairview Station 2 remains open, how does that increase the annual operating cost by the estimated $296,000? If there were to be no change to the district today, then there would be no change to the cost currently paid today for the operation of Fairview Station No 2.

There is no need or requirement for the County to cost share with Garner for the construction or operation of Station 5. Based on the Garner Town Manager’s comments at the July 19 Fire Commission meeting, building of Garner Station 5 is “not contingent on Wake County’s involvement” This can be found on audio recording Part 2, at the 35:20 mark. If that is the case, why would it cost the County anything additional?

That “increased costs” that Director Campasano is threatening us with is the cost share percentage he wants to charge us for the privilege of Garner building a new station on the border of the county, to serve an area outside of Garner that already has great fire service.

Fun fact: We are not legally bound by Director Campasano’s cost share percentage. As Ed Brinson explained:

The cost share model is simply the model by which the Fire Commission determines its recommendation for the annual budget, which is submitted to the Wake County Board of Commissioners; it is in no way a legally binding agreement. On August 8, 2018 Alice Avery, Communications Specialist with Wake County, confirmed to Doug Smith (community member), after conferring with the Fire Services staff, that the only legally binding agreement between Wake County and Garner Fire is the Fire Protection Agreement.

The Fire Protection Agreement states in Section 1:

For each fiscal year, the funds provided from the service tax district shall be based on the needs projected in the budget request jointly submitted by the Fire Department and the County staff to the County Commissioners and as approved by and deemed necessary by the County Commissioners for furnishing fire protection and emergency services within the District.

It is clear from this section that the County Commissioners are free to utilize whatever means they feel suitable to determine the level of funding any department receives. The County Commissioners are not bound by the Cost Share Model the Fire Services staff utilizes. Seeing as the construction of this proposed station on Caddy Road is not identified as an area of need by Wake County (per Wake County 2017 Staffing & Deployment Study), and would result in duplication of existing services, it falls outside of the general assumptions the Cost Share Model is built upon. Wake County has no obligation to fund the initial or ongoing expenses of the proposed station.

If Garner chooses to build a fire station right on the border between the city and the county, that doesn’t obligate the county to shut down their fire station that was there decades earlier and start paying for Garner’s new station instead.

What can you do about this?

Become informed. Read the document for yourself.

You can also read the informative slides from the community meeting.

Then, please come to the Fire Commission meeting tonight. Wear red to support your local fire station.

And, contact your county commissioners to protest this injustice.

Thank you.

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