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Thursday, July 25, 2024
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FEMS Budget Impact on Employees Questioned

Director Antonio Stevens presented the FEMS budget. Chief Financial Officer Charmaine Akers-Hewlett is on the left. (Photos by Alvin Burke JR., Mario Fonseca and Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

Antonio Stevens, the new director of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services, presented his first budget to the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance on Friday.

Committee Chair Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory wanted to know how budget cuts would affect his agency, especially a $2 million cut to personnel. Stevens admitted that wages were being increased as more employees became certified EMTs, and other raises were being contemplated to attract more employees.

The question never went away, and two hours later, when the FEMS budget discussion ended, Frett-Gregory directed Stevens to supply the Senate with more information about personnel costs.

He testified that the agency employed 97 firefighters on St. Croix and 123 in the St. Thomas-St. John district. The total number of employees for FEMS to operate 10 fire stations and three EMS bases is 325.

The employees are organized into four units: the Suppression Unit, the EMS Unit, the Arson Prevention and Investigation Unit, and the Administrative Unit.

After four years of debate, Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services merged 18 months ago.

Stevens was approved as head of FEMS in March. He had been acting director since Director Daryl George’s death last October. He has more than 17 years of experience in the V.I. Fire Service.

Another question that senators raised was whether FEMS, after the merger, was receiving the funds due to it. FEMS charges fees for ambulance runs, but the money goes to the Health Department.

Sen. Franklin Johnson said, “This does not look good. The money is not going where it should.” He said since FEMS paid the EMTs and paid the maintenance for the ambulances, it should get the fees paid for the run.

Stevens requested that the Health Revolving Fund cover the ambulance runs.

His budget request was for a $30.9 million appropriation. Personnel accounts for 97 percent of the appropriated funds. The remainder will be used for utilities, supplies, and other services.

The senators also had questions about two special non-appropriated funds.

The Fire Service Emergency Fund consists of fees collected for fire safety inspections, permits, and other services and fines assessed for code violations. The Emergency Services Fund consists of surcharges collected from mobile and landline phone users and is shared by VIFEMS and the Territorial Emergency Management Agency. Senators wanted a more detailed breakdown of the funds.

Stevens reported that the Junior Firefighter Corps program, which introduces youth ages 9-18 to firefighting, has 65 participants in the St. Thomas program and 20 participants in the St. Croix program.

Sens. Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Novelle Francis Jr., Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Franklin Johnson, and Carla Joseph attended the hearing.

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