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As Arlington buildings grow taller, fire department asks for more firefighters per engine

Ott Cribbs Public Safety Center at 620 W. Division St. in Arlington displays the Arlington fire and police department logos on a mirrored cylindrical window. The sky is cleared, and trees hang in front of the building.
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA
Arlington police officers and firefighters will receive a 6% raise if the Fiscal 2024 budget is approved. Arlington Fire Department has asked for funding to transition to four-person staffing on fire engines.

Arlington Fire Department officials want to send more firefighters out on calls and to accommodate a city that’s growing – both by population and by building height.

The department under the proposed 2024 budget would add funding for 40 new firefighter positions, in hopes of sending out four people on fire engines and ladder trucks for calls, including large fires and evacuations.

Jonathan Ingols, assistant fire chief, said the request marks the fire department’s first move for four-person staffing across the entire agency.

“We are trying to get thicker with people because the city of Arlington is growing upwards. We’re getting many multistory buildings, and that requires a tremendous amount of labor to get and move hoses to evacuate people when those buildings are on fire to do searches,” Ingols said.

Employing 40 new firefighters and equipment comes with an $8 million price tag. Police and fire department budgets account for $202 million of the $672.6 million proposed budget.

The department plans to stagger hiring over the years as the department transitions to four-person staffing, which means the department will add more firefighters in future budget cycles.

The department will also change the system to prevent overtime pay from creating a strain on the city budget, Ingols said.

“We’re not going to allow for a system to be built that puts the budget in a negative way or makes the budget negative,” he said.

Former Fire Chief Don Crowson slashed the department’s overtime budget several years ago, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Overtime expenses crested at $200,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Arlington Professional Firefighters Association decried the decision at the time.

Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, said during a city council meeting that he would watch closely for an influx of overtime.

“What I don’t want to happen is we go to four-man staffing, which, I’ve got to be honest, I’m still not sold on, and have the overtime thing happen again down the road,” Piel said during the Aug. 8 meeting.

Piel could not be reached for comment.

Public safety officers get larger raise

Arlington police and firefighters will receive a 6% raise, while other city employees will receive a 2% bump.

City officials say the bump for sworn public safety officers will keep the city competitive among other North Texas cities.

Sgt. Richard Coleman, who leads recruiting for the police department, listed Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano among the city’s top competitors.

“We’re competing a lot more with other agencies for qualified applicants,” Coleman said. “A 6% raise would definitely assist with trying to get qualified applicants to the police department.”

J.P. Mason, Arlington Police Association (APA) president, said he’s pushed for the police department to keep pay at 5% above the North Texas market. The APA in 2022 negotiated with the city for an 8% raise — the highest in city history.

This time around, Mason said, the city plans to revisit officer pay at the beginning of 2024 and adjust if needed.

“As long as we’re still there, and if we’re not there, as long as they get us there, we’re happy,” Mason said.

The proposed budget would add five new student resource officer positions to the department’s 22-officer SRO program. Arlington Independent School District will pay for most of the $619,856 required to create the new positions. The new officer positions will be based in elementary schools as the department and school district try to fall in line with the new state law that requires an armed security officer on school campuses.

Arlington City Council will vote twice to pass the budget for Fiscal year 2024: Sept. 5 and Sept. 12 at council chambers, 101 S. Center St.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.