Oklahoma voters will take to the polls across the metro this week. In Del City, policemen and firefighters are hoping citizens approve a half-cent sales tax increase for public safety, which they say is desperately needed.
Del City was forced to close one of its two fire stations this year, because people are leaving faster than they can be replaced. The remaining firefighters say this sales tax revenue will solve most of their problems.
The collateral damage of high turnover rates has taken its toll. Right now, Del City only has six firefighters working at a time, as opposed to the standard eight, and they still have to double up. They are working “anywhere from 300 to 400 hours of overtime a month,” says union president Steve Fernandez.
Many of their former colleagues have left for better paying jobs in neighboring cities.
Major Brandon Pursell says, “We’re not asking to be top in the metro, but we’re also asking not to be at the bottom, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
Ever since low staffing forced the closure of Station Two, response times have increased from three minutes to four on the south side of the city.
“One minute can double the size of the fire. It can also add a bad outcome on a medical call,” Pursell explains.
A brand-new fire station slated to open in January would bring an engine closer to those southern citizens, but the department still needs people to work there.
Six recently hired firefighters should help with that, as long as they stay with the city after training.
“It’s an investment,” Pursell says. "The time, the energy, the money that we spend on hiring firefighters, we’ve got to keep them. We can’t train them for other departments, and that’s kind of what we’ve run into.”
The police department faces similar understaffing issues, so officers and firefighters are asking the citizens to invest in them, and pay half a cent more per dollar when they shop.
“We’ll be able to split our manpower,” says Fernandez, "so we’ll have quicker response time and be able to keep our community safe."
The sales tax revenue would also give raises to police officers and emergency dispatchers, who face a similar wage gap to their neighbor agencies. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 14.