Civil service panel endorses HSFD’s organization chart

The Hot Springs Fire Department works a structure fire in the 600 block of School Street on Nov. 13, 2022. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record
The Hot Springs Fire Department works a structure fire in the 600 block of School Street on Nov. 13, 2022. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

The Civil Service Commission approved the reorganization of the upper echelon of the Hot Springs Fire Department's organizational chart Wednesday.

Fire Chief Ed Davis told the commission last month the reworked structure will foster continuity after he retires, which his deferred retirement option plan requires him to do by 2027.

An assistant chief's position is part of the reorganization, moving supervision of the prevention and training divisions and administrative coordinator out from under the chief's direct line of authority.

The prevention division will have two fire marshals instead of one, and two training officers will succeed Ty Farris when he retires later this year. One will focus on emergency medical services and the other on fire suppression. The commission approved the job description for the new training positions Wednesday.

Davis said firefighters have been shadowing Farris to get a better sense of his duties. In addition to overseeing medical and firefighter training, he ensures firefighters keep their certifications current and manages the city's EMS franchise agreement with LifeNet. The agreement grants LifeNet the exclusive right to EMS services in the city and stipulates standards and rules it must follow. It was renewed for a five-year term in 2020.

"Ty has done the work of two people for a long time," Davis told the commission. "He's taken a load off me in so many ways. I can't say anything but good things about him. He's done an excellent job as training officer."

Spreading leadership across more of the organizational chart will broaden the candidate pool for future chiefs, Davis told the commission last month. The new positions will be open to anyone who has served the department for two or more years and start out at lieutenant level pay.

They are pay level promotions and not promotions in rank. The commission oversees the latter, administering written tests, interviewing candidates and ranking them.

Davis discussed the following items in his monthly report to the commission:

He said the cause of the Feb. 3 house fire on Alcorn Street was still under investigation.

Officials said the fire in the 300 block claimed the life of a 5-year-old boy who was at the back of the house.

"Firefighters made entry under some pretty heavy fire conditions to try to get to the victim inside the house," Davis told the commission. "Once they located the victim they found he had died."

Davis said the fire marshal had yet to complete his report. The department is also waiting for information from the state Crime Lab.

He said coping skills gleaned from peer support training several firefighters completed shortly before the Alcorn fire proved timely.

"It's helping the guys talk about what they've seen," Davis told the commission. "We're trying to give the firefighters a safe environment where they can express their feelings and allow them to gain better coping skills."

Interim Police Chief Billy Hrvatin, who was at the Alcorn fire, said it was a harrowing scene.

"That was a really tough situation," he told the commission. "I was really proud of our fire department that day. That fire was fully involved when the fire department got there. I don't know how they made entry into that house, but they did."

The average response time to structure fires exceeded the department's five-minute benchmark last month. Davis said calls for service in south Hot Springs contributed to the longer responses.

The department has said a station south of the King Expressway would improve response times in the city's commercial core and lake-adjacent areas the Hot Springs Board of Directors forcibly annexed in 2015 and 2016. The Lakeshore Drive fire station is the southernmost of the city's five stations.

The department identified a 3-acre parcel behind First Security Bank in the 4000 block of Central Avenue as a possible location for a sixth station. Davis told the city board earlier this month that the bank owns the property and is willing to sell it to the city for $319,000.

"Everything south of the bypass does not have an engine company in it," Davis told the commission Wednesday.

"That's a huge area without an engine.

"Whenever traffic is busy on Higdon or busy on Central, it makes it very difficult for the fire apparatus to respond in a timely manner. That's one of the reasons why our response times are up. You're having to fight all that traffic to get out to the lake."

The department responded to a bicyclist who impaled his leg on the handlebar brake lever of his bike while riding in the Northwoods Trails System last month. Firefighters removed the lever from the handlebar while it was in the man's leg.

"The team led by Lt. Kevin Ellsworth did a great job," Davis said. "The lever from a handbrake was impaled in a man's thigh. They did a great job extricating him from the bicycle and getting him out. They're very proficient in their operations."

The National Park College baseball team participated in the Firefighter Olympics the department held last month at its Vernel Street training grounds.

"We took them through some drills to help them understand what we do as firefighters," Davis said. "We're trying to recruit more young people who are physically fit. Hopefully, that will help us out."

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