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As ‘unprecedented’ attrition looms at Scottsdale Fire Department, funding is secured at City Hall

Photo of Scottsdale Police and Fire Headquarters
The Scottsdale Police & Headquarters is found along Indian School Road in the heart of the city of Scottsdale. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/

Officials: Next 3 years will see drop in 85% of sworn staff

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Officials at the Scottsdale Fire Department are reporting department heads are anticipating an “unprecedented” attrition rate of 85% of the sworn first responders serving the community who will leave the local ranks over the next three calendar years.

According to Assistant Scottsdale Fire Chief Ryan Freeburg, the majority of the sworn personnel at the Scottsdale Fire Department were hired in 2005 and data shows are likely set to leave through attrition from now through 2025.

Scottsdale City Council has taken a few actions at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., to ensure funding is in place to hire a projected 30 firefighters immediately.

“The request is for 30 firefighters to address the impending issues our attrition rate will create,” Assistant Chief Freeburg said in his July 7 City Council report.

“The large number of firefighters that will retire at the same time will create a workforce that has minimal experience therefore exposing the community and other firefighters to unnecessary risk. It is our plan to early-hire firefighters based on predictive employee retirement trends.”

Scottsdale City Council Thursday, July 7, during its consent agenda approvals — a time for items discussed at length by staff and considered procedural in most cases — unanimously approved five separate measures attached to funding at the Fire Department.

Those approvals are:

  1. In fiscal year 2022-23 the spending of Federal Emergency Management Agency staffing for adequate fire and emergency response (SAFER) grant funds, in the total amount of $6,584,497 over three, 12-month periods beginning fiscal year 2022-23.
  2. Fire chief Tom Shannon or designee is approved to conduct all negotiations and to execute and submit all documents and other necessary or desirable instruments in connection with the acceptance of FEMA grant dollars.
  3. The addition of 30 new FTE positions at the job classification of “Firefighter” in this current fiscal year.
  4. Up to a $1,445,995 budget transfer from the adopted FY 2022-23 future grants budget and/or grant contingency to a newly created cost center within the fire department ’s operating budget to record the related safer grant activity.
  5. Up to a $812,922 budget transfer from the fiscal year 2022-23 adopted general fund operating contingency to the fire department’s operating budget to cover expenses such as the difference in salary and benefit costs since applying for the grant, medical exams, and one-time costs associated with the academy and uniforms/gear.

Assistant Chief Freeburg says hiring now is essential to replenish ranks filled with highly-skilled professional firefighters.

“The positions will receive required training and become proficient before the veteran skilled and seasoned firefighters begin retiring that will ensure the safety of the citizens of Scottsdale, visitors and all firefighters,” he said in his report.

“This will allow the early hiring of staffing for new fire station 612 prior to the opening and return a four-person staffed response unit to fire station 601. The early hire of the firefighters prior to the construction of fire station 612 and the purchase of new response units will allow seasoned firefighters the opportunity to pass on needed skills and knowledge to a younger workforce, which will ensure the department continues to provide excellent service to the community while also ensuring the safety of all firefighters.”

A part of the tenets of the SAFER grant dollars, Assistant Chief Freeburg says, is to focus on the firefighter with also providing a chance for mentorship amongst the ranks.

“The department is committed to enhancing and improving member wellness and safety and employs a full-time civilian to develop and oversee department-wide initiatives,” he said of the acceptance of grant dollars.

“The award of this SAFER grant will reduce the risk to the community, organization and personnel by continuing to provide experienced and trained appropriate number of resources to support fire responses and EMS critical tasks in the city of Scottsdale and to our border automatic aid partners in the northern portion of the city.”

Assistant Chief Freeburg explains new firefighters hired will funnel into staffing Fire Station No. 612 and returning a four-person response unit at Fire Station No. 601.

“This will be accomplished by allowing new firefighters the ability to be mentored by a seasoned workforce. It will also allow the department to train additional firefighters in specialty skills to replace those vacated in the future years.”

— Ryan Freeburg, Scottsdale assistant fire chief

The acceptance of federal grant dollars helps ease the financial burden of the impending amount of hiring projected due to the loss of firefighters to retirement, Assistant Chief Freeburg says.

“This request addresses a part of the department’s plan to minimize the expense and impact on the workforce that will be caused by the high attrition rate we will experience,” he said. “The department continuously seeks out grant opportunities and submits applications for all federal opportunities available. Each year during our budget development process our department identifies all shortfalls within the department to address the impending attrition rate.”

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