Fire Department and Labor Union Continue Debate Over Alternative Response Vehicles



The Memphis Fire Department’s impasse with its union over buying eight alternative response vehicles (ARVs) isn’t over yet.

Both sides had their say at Tuesday’s latest Memphis City Council Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee meeting, but committee chairman and city councilman Jim Strickland tabled the fire department’s request once more for further consideration.

The disagreement over buying the ARVs began at a council meeting on January 4th, at which fire officials proposed buying the utility vehicles to save money on maintenance, fuel, and other costs. Union officers expressed concerns about longer response times during emergencies.

Tuesday’s discussion appeared to have lost its edge, except that each side still clung to its main arguments.

Alvin Benson, director of Memphis Fire Services, maintained that buying the ARVs would save money on maintenance and other costs. He also pointed out that the department’s response times to various emergencies comply with national standards more than 90 percent of the time.

“The standard is to respond in five minutes or less,” Benson said. “The standard is actually five minutes and 20 seconds.”

Strickland asked Benson if it matters what kind of vehicle responds first to an emergency, and Benson responded that it doesn’t.

However, union members maintained that sending ARVs to emergency calls could present a danger in more complicated cases. The ARVs are only able to respond to medical calls, whereas much larger fire trucks are equipped to handle all kinds of emergencies.

“It’s our goal to send the closest resource to every emergency, not just medical,” said Robert Kramer, a representative of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1784. “That’s what we feel is wrong with this total concept.”

For the time being, Strickland moved to approve the fire department’s request to buy other kinds of vehicles while saving the ARV discussion for one more airing. The issue will be taken up again at the council's February 1st meeting.

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