Sequestration could mean furloughs for Ft. Jackson EMS - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Sequestration could mean furloughs for Ft. Jackson EMS

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Union leaders at Fort Jackson say emergency service personnel at Fort Jackson will have to be furloughed as a result of sequestration if the Department of Defense doesn't allow exemptions.

The President of the National Federation of Federal Employees local chapter notified citizens and government leaders of the effects the furloughs could have on emergency services at Fort Jackson.

In his letter, Jeff Richardson said the command and management staff at Fort Jackson asked for an exemption for emergency personnel, but the request was overturned by the higher Army Command.

Fort Jackson officials have been sent a copy of Richardson's letter and have yet to comment on it.

Richardson said if the exemptions are not approved, members of the Fort Jackson Fire Department will not be able to respond to medical emergencies and will have to rely on the Columbia Fire Department for support on serious incidents. 

Richardson said the EMS department will be forced to take one ambulance off the road per shift.

According to Richardson, day-to-day functions will remain the same in law enforcement and security, but post visitors may experience delays at the entrance gate because of staffing furloughs. 

Fort Jackson's 911 communications center currently operates at 30% below staffing levels, and Richardson said furloughs could mean one dispatcher could be on duty at any given time.

The letter warns if the furloughs go through, it could be a drain on other emergency services in the region.

The text of the latter can be read below:



It is the intent of NFFE Local 1214 to advise the citizens, government leaders, and emergency services personnel of the greater Columbia area about the sequestration driven furloughs that may affect Fort Jackson and its emergency services entities.  The Secretary of Defense has authorized exemption of personnel for safety of life or property – only to the extent needed to prevent unacceptable risk or catastrophic gaps in the safety and protection of life or property. The Local also understands and would like to emphasize that the command and management staff of Fort Jackson has requested group exemption for emergency services personnel; however, higher Army command maintains group and individual exemption decision authority at this time. Higher Army command has given no indication that it may approve group exemption for emergency services nor delegate individual exemption authority to Ft. Jackson leadership, only that it will be considered. It also does not understand the immediacy of a decision on emergency personnel exemption. Postponement of emergency services exemption only creates more hardship for post leadership in planning for potential furlough and a sense of anxiety in all who may be potentially affected. Countless man-hours have been and are being expended planning for emergency personnel furlough instead of focusing on the daily mission and immediate action items. A timely exemption would have eliminated this effort. This release in no way criticizes or places culpability on Fort Jackson leadership for these furloughs and their apparent consequences.  The furloughs to emergency services personnel at Fort Jackson will potentially have the following results:

Fire Department: Reduced staffing will require the fire department to reduce its service delivery.  The fire department is currently staffed at minimum required by law and relies on the City of Columbia Fire Department mutual aid for certain incidents.  Fire department personnel respond to all fire alarms, structure fires, vehicle fires, technical rescue incidents such as car accidents and high angle rope rescues.  Personnel respond to all medical emergencies, hazardous material releases and spills.  Additionally, the fire department operates a prevention division that is currently understaffed by nearly 50%.  These Fire Inspectors conduct fire safety inspections, review and approve new construction plans, and conduct public education training.  These staffing numbers and services identified are the current situation before any furloughs are implemented. If fire personnel are not exempted fire department personnel and equipment will not respond to medical emergencies as they have in the past.  This service will either be reduced or suspended until the furlough is terminated some 7- 14 weeks after implementation.  The fire department will be forced to rely on the Columbia Fire Department for support to any emergencies of any complexity.  Fort Jackson Fire Department personnel may be forced to wait until the Columbia Fire Department arrives before conducting aggressive interior firefighting operations, technical rescue operations, and hazardous material operations.  The end result is hazardous to the citizens of Fort Jackson and the Columbia area.  Columbia Fire Department personnel and equipment may be called to Fort Jackson with greater frequency and in greater numbers reducing their ability to respond to calls in the Columbia are.

Emergency Medical Services:  The EMS ambulance transport service currently experiences an operational tempo of 20-30 emergency medical responses daily in the summer months as well as non-emergency transports to area hospitals such as Dorn VA medical center and even Fort Gordon's medical center in Augusta, GA.  The furloughs will force the EMS section to reduce their staffing by one ambulance crew per shift.  This will result in slower response times to medical emergencies.  This will also cause Fort Jackson to ask Richland County EMS to respond to medical emergencies on the installation reducing the number of available ambulances in the county.  As the EMS section is under a different command than other emergency services entities, it may be possible for individual exemptions to be approved at the Ft. Jackson level. Please note, as previously stated the fire department will not be able to assist the EMS division.

Law Enforcement and Security:  Based on criteria given for exemption there were no exemptions requested for law enforcement personnel. While the day-to-day law enforcement functions will continue, it will result in reducing other areas.  Special sections such as the traffic division will reduce or eliminate their functions to provide support to road patrol and respond to daily requests for service.  Gate security staff may be reduce forcing a change in the gate operations schedule and even closing some gates indefinitely during the 7-14 week furloughs.  This will inevitably cause traffic back-ups on surface roads leading to and from the gates as well and more importantly on I-77 during the morning traffic commute.  State and local police agencies will have an increase in traffic related responses during these times and in these areas as they have experienced in the past during previous gate closures. Local Fire and EMS response to critical incidents on Ft. Jackson may be delayed due to traffic congestion.  Local police agencies may have to provide traffic support outside of the gates to keep the flow of traffic moving to prevent a dangerous traffic situation.  If other sections such as EMS and Fire Department do not receive exemptions, the need for law enforcement manning will increase substantially to escort local agencies responding to Ft. Jackson

911 Communications:  The 911 center and emergency communications section is currently understaffed by approximately 30% as of February this year, before any furlough actions.  The communications personnel monitor all fire alarm systems, security systems, fire and EMS radio channels, police and security channels, as well as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.  The personnel also answer all 911 calls, non-emergency phone lines, and dispatch police, fire, and EMS emergencies.  These duties require certification and a great deal of training and expertise that is extremely difficult to master.  Staffing will be greatly impacted even more with the impending furlough and could potentially drop to one dispatcher on duty to operate all of the previously listed functions. 

There are exemptions that can be granted from units and personnel being furloughed.  It is imperative that Fort Jackson emergency services personnel receive such an exemption.  NFFE Local 1214 urges residents, leaders, and mangers to contact Congressional representatives with your concerns regarding these cuts that could affect you and your family.  Fort Jackson's daily population is highest in the summer months and the demand placed on emergency services is at its highest as well. Fort Jackson may put stresses on the outside community emergency resources thus reducing their capabilities within their own jurisdictions.  These stresses may result in local emergency leaders reducing or suspending support to Fort Jackson in order to maintain their primary mission to their own citizens.  Again, NFFE Local 1214 implores local citizens to voice their concerns so that higher authority may understand the gravity of these reductions and grant an exemption. 

A spokesperson for Fort Jackson released a statement early Thursday:

"First and foremost, no final decision in regard to furloughs has been made at the Department of the Army level. The preponderance of the positions mentioned in NFFE's press release will continue to be considered for exception by the Installation Management Command (IMCOM).  As Department of the Army continues to evaluate the impact of furloughs and provide specific guidance, Fort Jackson will respond in accordance with that guidance," said Pat Jones.

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