WEST JORDAN, Utah (ABC4) – Right now inflation is putting financial strain on firefighters in Salt Lake County. Costs are up for Unified Fire Authority, forcing them to get creative to make ends meet. They’re doing some things they’ve never done before to stretch those dollars, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
Like smoke rising from a burning building, our current inflation is sending budgets soaring for Utah firefighters.
“Everything is increasing, fuel costs increasing, costs of tools and equipment increasing,” said Michael Greensides, Logistics Division Chief, Unified Fire Authority.
As people struggle to pay for eggs and gasoline, fire department costs are also compounding.
Division Chief Michael Greensides oversees all supplies and equipment for Unified Fire Authority’s hundreds of firefighters in Salt Lake County and said it’s tough to make ends meet right now.
“In our fuel line last year, we budgeted $500,000 dollars and we spent… it was about $700,000 to $720,000 dollars,” said Greensides.
He said firefighter protective gear, just the jacket and pants, are up 18.28% from last year. Parts for fire trucks from the last half of 2021 compared to the same time in 2022 were up 34.91%, and the same fire engine U.F.A. bought in 2022 now costs $134,252 more, an 18.5% increase. Greensides said it’s forcing him to come up with creative ways to cover the added costs.
“So how are you trying to stretch that dollar with the engines here in this bay?” asked Reporter Brian Carlson, ABC4 News.
“We’re looking at anything we can do to replace certain parts and components rebuild certain aspects vs doing a complete replacement,” said Greensides.
That means fixing all their repairs in-house, cleaning up old tools they’d normally replace, and giving hand-me-downs to crews who need new tools.
“For example, if a fire station needs a new sledgehammer, they may get this one instead. Still gets the job done but you can tell it’s not exactly new,” said Carlson.
U.F.A. is no longer repairing minor dings and scraps for emergency vehicles on the road.
“The bad thing is you can see the corrosion even here. This is an old ambulance. An ’09 ambulance,” he said.
Instead of replacing ambulances with too much engine wear they’re now refurbishing the cabins of those ambulances and remounting them onto new axles and engines.
“How much will you save costs that way?” asked Carlson.
“Oh considerably, before we were only ordering five ambulances. Now, we can put seven refurbished ambulances onto seven brand new chassis,” said Greensides.
Greensides said none of this cost-cutting is cutting corners on safety but said balancing the books like this gives him anxiety.
“Coming into the job I had this ideal look like we’re going to repair every single apparatus, get everything done on every apparatus so there’s no issues and lingering issues and stuff like that… but the unfortunate thing because of our budget and where we’re at I can’t always do that,” Greensides said.
Right now, U.F.A. is in the middle of making its new budget for next year. You expect all these extra costs will come up, but because they use tax dollars, it’s a pretty lengthy process. It won’t be known until this summer how much they’ll get to cover all these added costs.
So as inflation has many Americans finding new ways to save, Unified’s firefighters in Salt Lake County are doing it too.