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Idaho Falls fire chief talks strategy with City Council

A lot of big decisions are on the horizon for the Idaho Falls Fire Department, including cutting back on the tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay going to firefighters.

Fire Chief Dean Ellis talked to the Idaho Falls City Council during a work session Thursday and presented his ideas to fix the problem.

Ellis said the department was about $30,000 over its overtime budget for the past year. He said a lot of that was due to firefighters filling in for their injured colleagues.

To cut back on the overtime, Ellis said he could work with human resources to increase training opportunities for firefighters, keeping them safer on the job. He also suggested hiring three more firefighters to allow more room for someone to take time off, or adding an extra shift of part-time firefighters to fill in for full-time employees when they can’t come to work.

The excessive overtime led to the closure of one fire station in Idaho Falls earlier this year. The City Council has since decided to re-open it.

Although the fire department went over its overtime budget, Ellis said it was actually under its total budget for the year. Both he and members of the city council felt, in hindsight, the hype and closure of a fire station was an excessive reaction.

“It’s an election year, and anything you can grab hold of — it’s called the silly season,” said city council President Ida Hardcastle. “I’ve been in enough election years to know that things rise to the top that don’t merit rising to the top.”

Hardcastle said she was impressed by Ellis’ ideas to cut back on overtime.

The city also talked about the deteriorating fire station.

Earlier this year, the fire department discovered the floor in Station No. 1 was unable to support the weight of the emergency vehicles.

Since then, engineers analyzed the building. They determined it would cost roughly $300,000 to fix the floor, plus an extra $30,000 to fix a cracked wall that they said could give way in several years.

Ellis and the City Council discussed building a new fire station, instead of fixing the old one, which they said would be a short-term fix for a long-term problem.

“If we repair that floor, we lose all that basement space under there for our day room, our training area and a hose repair storage room,” Ellis said.

“It is just a band-aid because that station does not meet the needs,” Hardcastle said.

If the city decided to build a new fire station, it would not be for a long time. The council agreed that more research needed to be done before making such a big decision.

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