Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Commissioner Dennis James C. Mendiola spoke before the House Ways and Means Committee last Thursday to appeal to lawmakers to secure the salaries and fringe benefits of the department’s personnel.
Speaking at the budget hearing, Mendiola said, “I think all of you understand the magnitude of our responsibility in this community. …[I am] appealing to you to just please consider our department, our agency, and our personnel. The greatest asset I have in this department is the personnel.”
The Office of the Governor is proposing to allocate $3.5 million to the DFEMS next fiscal year—$2 million below the department’s original proposal, which is $5.5 million. The governor’s proposed budget, according to Office of Management and Budget special assistant Virginia Villagomez, is inclusive of the 64-hour pay period, but does not include other sources of income, such as revolving funds.
Mendiola explained that he understands the current economic state of the CNMI, and so the only thing he needs is for his personnel to be secured through the budget allocation. For operational resources, they can consider alternate sources of funding, he said. As for DFEMS’ revolving fund, Mendiola said they are also projecting this to go down. “It might look like we have a lot in the revolving fund but I just want to remind [everyone] that…we’ve been having customers not renew business licenses or their fire permit because they’re not sure if they’re going to open up their business. I just want to remind the body of that notion.”
DFEMS has 123 employees. Twenty-seven are on Rota and 23 on Tinian. Their hours are also reduced to 96 from 106.
Ten employees have already been furloughed. Thirty of their personnel are part of the COVID-19 Task Force where a total of over 106 people are being paid out of COVID-19 funds. Mendiola said they are planning to recall the DFEMS staff to regular duty because the department is incurring more overtime cost for employees who are taking up the slack for these 30 at the COVID-19 Task Force. “Because we deployed 30 personnel, now we’re incurring a lot more overtime. So the plan is to try and bring these guys back,” he said.
Due to COVID-19, there has been a 20% increase in ambulance responses, plus the search and rescue missions for DFEMS that range from three days to a week.
Mendiola further stressed that DFEMS needs to operate on 106 hours, to ensure 100% responding capability from the four stations that they man. “If we were to cut hours or personnel, that will be impacted, we will have to close either a station or not man [a station], for that matter. That’s the risk that comes on us. In order to maximize the probability of somebody living, we want to respond to them as soon as possible,” he added.