This week the Apopka City Council approved a budget that added 18 Firefighters, a Training Officer, a Health and Safety Officer, a Quality Assurance Officer, and retrofitting for the current fire stations in the 2022-2023 budget.
It's a huge win for the City of Apopka, its residents, and our future.
Our firefighters will now be able to run calls with three firefighters per apparatus, providing safety for our firefighters and higher-quality service to our residents.
The total cost of this budget increase for the first year to equip these firefighters is $115,716. The stations' retrofit will be $59,942, and the annual salary with benefits for all 18 firefighters will be $1,102,836. These funds will be paid for by our very healthy 25% reserves that should be fully replenished in the 2023-2024 budget.
On that same budget, we will work to build this ongoing need into our annual budget without having to touch our reserves. I believe this is the most fiscally sound approach to ensuring our top priority of safety.
One critical factor is that the industry is experiencing difficulty recruiting new firefighters. Come October 1st, when this budget starts, we do not expect to have 18 firefighters able and ready to train with us (although we are open to it, so tell your friends!). To overcome this issue, we must be proactive when seeking qualified applicants. We do not want to lower our standards but, at the same time, need to throw a broader net to open our pool of applicants.
Although we have $1.2 million budgeted for these new positions, I believe it is a low probability they will be fully filled by the end of our fiscal year. Those funds don't just go away. They will be saved to go exclusively towards our recruiting efforts in the future.
Once we have a fully staffed department, we must investigate how we can retain these firefighters long-term. We offer an excellent pension but are on the bottom of the comparison list when it comes to other municipalities and their incentives (education reimbursement, salary, etc.).
Overall, with this big win comes a lot of work and oversight to ensure we are staffing properly. We must be cognizant that we are not inappropriately demoting or promoting; if someone from within our department is the best-suited candidate, great. If not, we cannot be slow to open our applicant pool outside of the department.
The Council has heard the department's needs and has provided the financial resources for their success. Fire Chief Wylam is now responsible for executing and delivering results.
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