Letter to the Editor: Fire Service Is Earliest, Cheapest Insurance

by | Dec 6, 2017

My name is Tom Bailey and I proudly serve your community. I am a lieutenant on the rescue located at Station 1 on Main Street. I have worked here in East Greenwich for 15 years. I am writing today for several reasons but it should be clear I am speaking on my own behalf. I do not speak for the union that represents me and I am not speaking on behalf of my family at the station ( my fellow firefighters). The following are my independent thoughts.

I would like to address a few concerns that seem to be on going here in town. Mainly as it pertains to me as a firefighter and the costs associated. To keep things simple I’m not going to try and twist this into a political mudslinging rant. I’m also not going to give you some sob story as to why I matter or how what I do matters. It’s in the eye of the beholder on these points so there is no point in trying to argue.

What I will do is try to simplify the conversation to its most basic premise. I will attempt to do this with a few caveats. The first to be noted is I am not a math guru nor am I an accountant. Second is the equation I am about to present is purely for reference and I understand that it is not the actual formula for exact accounting.

So here is what we know: There are 13,146 residents (2010 census). The slated fire department budget for 2018 is $4.1 million (2018 EGFD budget which is just over 6 percent of the entire town budget). With these two numbers we know the cost per resident for fire and EMS services to be $311.88 per year ($4.1 million/13,146), or broken down to $0.85 per day per resident ($311.88/365 days). The above stated figures are just the fire department’s total operational budget and do not include retirement or health care costs. The town separates these costs into employee benefits as a line item. The retirement cost is $787,813 (2018 budget) and the cost for health care is an estimated $702,000. The number was derived by assuming every FD member has the family plan at the highest cost of $18,000 per plan, or 39 firefighters x $18,000 = $702,000). Adding these two figures into the equation brings the total budget to $5.6 million ($4.1 million + $1.5 million). This accounts for 9 percent of the entire town’s budget. Cost per resident per year $425.98 ($5.6 mill/13,146) or $1.16 per day per resident. These figures include the overtime as they budgeted for 2018 ($550,000).

Since some town officials have referred to overtime possibly reaching $1 million, I will go one step further and add an additional $1 million to the fire budget total bringing it to $6.6 million. This number is inflated, since it would cover $1.55 million in overtime costs, but I include it as an absolute worst-case scenario. That total of $6.6 million would bring the total annual cost per resident to  $502 ($6.6 mill/13,146) or $1.37 per day per resident ($502/365 days). This would account for 10.6 percent of the town’s total budget.

None of the above figures account for the $700,000 of revenue  (rescue billing 2018 budget) the fire department brings to the town. That $700,000 is positive cash flow. It does not go into the fire department budget however; it goes directly into the town’s general fund. So with all things being equal the new total for the 2018 actual budget  would be $5.9 million ($6.6 million minus $700,000), $448.80 per person per year or $1.23 per person per day. Accounting for 7 percent of the town’s total budget. Using the Town Council’s $6.6 million dollar amount the new total after deducting the $700,000 revenue the new total becomes $5.9 million. That’s $448.46 annually per person ($5.9 mill/13,146) or $1.22 per person per day. Accounting for 9.5 percent of the town’s total budget.  (Note: I understand each house has its own value for property and each property has a varying amount of people residing. The formula was simply used to put into perspective cost per person not actual accounting of what was paid per household.)

My hope here is to bring perspective to the conversation. I believe perspective can be found in other services that are similar in nature to the fire department. The fire department is an insurance policy in its simplest form. In fact, historically it’s the oldest insurance in the United States. Today the fire department is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week immediate response for your home, property and life. We may not replace your property and we don’t cover the cost of your ailments. However we do stop further (in many cases prevent) damage to property (cars, boats, houses, sheds, businesses, etc.) and we provide advanced life support services to treat life threatening medical ailments. We provide a litany of other services and yes we will even get the occasional cat out of the tree.

With this in mind, let’s compare other insurance costs. The average cost of homeowners insurance in Rhode Island is $1,162 annually ($3.18 per day). With this insurance you may have coverage to replace what was lost after a deductible is met. This coverage may help you rebuild should disaster strike (Note: some things are not replaceable and the value is only truly known to the person affected). The average cost of health insurance is a tough number to pin down but for the sake of this discussion I will use the national average, which is $18,142 for a family plan with the worker’s cost average of this being $5,277 annually ($14.45 per day). Both home and health insurances cover expenses incurred after damage. Your fire service, which costs comparatively less, is the one insurance that responds immediately to help you as it is happening. Of all three insurances I have discussed, the fire department is the only one willing to put our own lives at risk to help you no matter what the situation or the time of day as it is happening.

So you may ask, what is my point? Well, there are several. First, each service in this community has a place. From parks and rec, to the schools, to the fire department, so on and so forth. Every service in this community has its own value to each resident. Every service makes up the overall value of this town and cumulatively these services give the community its allure and ultimately drive the demand of people wanting to move here, which in turn directly affects property values. Lately the town manager and some of the council have isolated some of these services as unsustainable. They have thrown around wild accusations and alarming numbers. They appear to want to pit the public and town departments against one another. I will not stoop to this level and accuse them as to what their intent is. So regardless if you agree with what they suggest or not, I want you to know that my one goal when I go to work each day is simply to do my best in helping you any way I can at all cost. Regardless of how you feel about the current political atmosphere, regardless of your view of my career, you need to know your fire department is always there with your safety at heart.

In conclusion, the fire department could make up as much as 10 percent of the overall town budget. I am not delusional in thinking that everyone is OK with this figure. I also realize that everyone wants the best bargain for their dollar. I’m also quite aware not many people move to a particular community for their fire department services. What I do know is when you have something of great value it is important to invest in its protection and insure its overall value. I don’t know the dollar value of every property in East Greenwich but I feel it’s fair to guess all property in total to be in the billions. I can however tell you every citizen’s life is priceless. To cut your fire service will have potential effects on the protection of both life and property. It would be the equivalent of buying a priceless art piece but not doing anything to keep it safe or insured. Rest assured no matter what they decide to cut I will guarantee each of your firefighters will continue to do the best they can with what they have to accomplish the mission. I do ask is when town leaders propose options, that you take me and my family (fire family as well as my beautiful wife and three children) into consideration. In order to do this, simply evaluate what they propose and ask, if my workplace asked me or my spouse to do this, how would it affect our family and our lives? Thank you for your time.

Sincerely Honored,
Lt. Thomas Bailey

Added Prospective:

Average full coverage auto insurance cost for RI $1,688 annually or $4.62 per day: https://www.carinsurance.com/state/Rhode-Island-car-insurance.aspx

Average Homeowners insurance cost for RI $1,162.00 annually or $3.18 per day: https://www.valuepenguin.com/best-cheap-homeowners-insurance-rhode-island

Average national cost for health insurance $5,277 annually or $14.45 per day: http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/health-insurance-premiums.aspx

Average cost of a Dunkin Donuts coffee $2.09 large: https://www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/dunkin-donuts-prices/

Cost for your Fire and Emergency Medical Service in East Greenwich $1.37 per day (utilizing the highest figures).

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December 7, 2017 2:56 pm

Thank you, Lt. Bailey!

December 11, 2017 5:56 pm

Thank you for this insightful article and for your service.


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