The Scottsdale City Council unanimously created its first municipal fire department Tuesday night, granting Fire Chief William McDonald a force of 256 employees and $2.4 million to improve the city's dispatch and radio system.
For the remainder of fiscal 2004-05, the fire department will have $560,000 to spend on salaries and $1.2 million to update its deficient radio system.
"We have determined that our system has pockets where its reliability is not acceptable," McDonald said. Another $1.2 million will go toward joining Phoenix's automatic aid consortium. As a member of the consortium, Scottsdale's fire department will be among 20 Valley departments which allow the closest fire engine to respond to an emergency, no matter the jurisdiction.
"Lets face it, if you're having a heart attack you don't care if the face that shows up is in a Phoenix uniform or a Scottsdale uniform," Councilman Bob Littlefield said.
The 256 positions include about 60 more firefighters for the city, giving 11 Scottsdale fire crews four members per truck, considered an industry standard.
The funds will come from the city's public safety tax revenue.
Rural/Metro Corp., which has provided fire protection in the city for more than a half-century, announced in November 2003 that it would sever ties with the city on June 30.
A contentious debate over whether the city should continue to contract with Rural/Metro for its fire protection came to a head in May 2003 when Scottsdale voters rebuffed firefighters' request for a city-run department.
That debate surfaced briefly again Tuesday as some council members questioned McDonald's proposed spending.
Councilman Ron McCullagh asked why the city should spend more on fire protection when residents already expressed satisfaction with the standard set by Rural/Metro.
Defending McDonald, Mayor Mary Manross said Rural/Metro had agreed to increase its staffing and update its technical equipment before opting out of Scottsdale.
Most council members said they were ready to move forward.
"There's no point tonight in rehashing all that," Littlefield said.