Council moves to exclude residents from automobile accident response charges

The Miles City Council moved forward to exclude additional response charges for city residents and their insurance policies in the event of vehicle accidents, unless they are criminally negligent. 

At its Tuesday night meeting, members voted 7-1 for a resolution to be created to amend Resolution No. 4007, that allowed the response fees to be charged to insurance policies. It was passed in December.

Council woman Kathy Wilcox voted against it.

Now the amendment will be written into a resolution, which will come before the council twice and a public hearing will be held at the same meeting as the second reading.

When an emergency call comes in for a response from Miles City Fire and Rescue for an injury, an ambulance and the pumper truck is dispatched. 

According to a fire department press release, the pumper truck follows the ambulances on emergency medical calls because there are only three firefighters on duty a shift so when there is a call, two members respond in the ambulance and the third responds in the pumper truck in case any further assistance is needed for lifting, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, etc.

While some people think the third person should respond in a pickup, when a second alarm comes in during another call the pumper is ready to go directly on the call instead of returning to the station to get the pumper truck, “causing an undue delay.”

In 2016, a second call came in during another call 215 times, an average of  four times a week.

It has been reported that a fire doubles in intensity every 30 seconds if “it is allowed to burn unimpeded,” to a city fire department press release said.

Also at the meeting, the council voted against applying for a grant that would provide partial funding for an additional firefighter/emergency medical technician.

The SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) would pay 75 percent of the cost of the employee for the first two years and 35 percent the third year. 

The first year it would cost the city $13,900. The second year the cost would be $14,900 and the third year would cost $41,961, Finance Committee Chair Susanne Galbraith said Thursday morning.

At the meeting Fire Chief Gary Warren said the goal was to put Battalion Chief Brandon Stevens on daytime shift to work on grants and save the city a lot in overtime.

“With the money we’d be saving in overtime, to me its a no brainer,” Galbraith said.

Also an additional person would make it easier to do more transfers to Billings, which would result in more revenue.

Thursday morning Stevens said the grant would have saved the city administrative overtime hours totaling 1,101 (last year’s figure) for grant writing, fire inspections, and other tasks. 

In 2004 the department lost its assistant fire chief and mechanic so those duties have been spread out throughout the department. Due to the increasing number of calls, there is little time to get the administrative duties accomplished without employees coming in when they are off duty to do them, he said. 

Councilman Dwayne Andrews said in the fourth year the city would be paying the full amount.

Galbraith said that if someone leaves then the city has the choice of not replacing that person.

Andrews said when a department is set up with an extra position it’s very hard to remove it. 

At the meeting Stevens explained that according to the National Fire Protection Association standards, a fire department this size should have four people on shift. Miles City has three, which is “fully staffed” according to the city-union contract agreement. So while the city and union agreed that three would be considered “fully staffed” that’s not the nationally accepted standard. If the city faces a liability lawsuit that could be used against it, he added.

This way a fourth person would be on during the day.

City Attorney Dan Rice said the city is fully insured for what they could be sued for.

Councilman Ken Gardner said Miles City has less people than it did a year ago so now isn’t the time to consider increasing the size of the fire department. 

Mayor John Hollowell agreed that it is a “no-brainer” to apply for the grant since it would save money while increasing the staffing for a few years at least.

The vote to approve the grant failed 5-3 with Andrews, Gardner, Rick Huber, John Uden and Brant Kassner voting against and Galbraith, Kathy Wilcox and Jeff Erlenbusch voting in favor of the grant.

The council also unanimously voted for a resolution  to allow spending $33,237 for repairs to three fire vehicles. It was the first of two required readings of the resolution.

Warren said the trucks were taken to a Billings shop for repairs and the shop was told to keep the trucks inside. They sat outside all winter, resulting in many more problems. The city is pursuing reimbursement for the shop’s negligence.

Uden said of the resolution that if a department is expected to do its job, it has to have the equipment to do that job.

Two firefighters, Tanner Harbaugh and Justin Trethewey, had completed their probationary period and were promoted from probationary firefighters to confirmed firefighters at the meeting.