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Residents fight for fire

Andy Ouriel • Jun 17, 2014 at 8:58 PM

ouriel@sanduskyregister.com

A two-sentence, 30-word plea prompted dozens of Sandusky residents to take action in what they labeled a gross injustice toward local public safety efforts.

Muirwood Village resident Barbara Linden recently circulated a petition to west side residents, calling for city officials to keep Sandusky Fire Station No. 7 near Toft Dairy open all day, everyday.

About 150 residents signed the petition during a two-week period.

“Having a part-time fire department on the west side of town is unacceptable,” according to the petition. “We, the people of Sandusky, demand that the fire station on Venice Road remain open 24 hours, seven days a week.”

Linden echoed the petition’s theme.

“When we call 911, we need a rescue squad now, not in 12 or 15 minutes,” Linden said. “This decision won’t save lives. It will kill lives. The sooner we can get a paramedic out here to the people, the better.”

Sandusky firefighter Ryan Brotherton, the department’s union vice president, appreciated the gesture and understands the frustrations residents shared.

“I think it’s great that the citizens on the west side are getting involved and voicing their concerns,” Brotherton said. “They have every right to be worried about this issue, and they deserve to have that station open."

Shutting down

The petition resulted from city officials' decision, about a month ago, to close this fire station about three days per week, when not enough firefighters are on the clock.

In short, there’s not enough full-time firefighters on Sandusky’s payroll to keep all three fire stations open each day now through October, due to a $1.1 million budget shortfall.

The other two stations are located on West Market Street in downtown and on Fifth Street by Cedar Point.

Budget cuts forced fire commanders, through attrition and not layoffs, to trim staffing levels to 50, down from from 53 full-time positions earlier this year.

The current manpower level restricts fire commanders from keeping all three stations open, so officials closed station No. 7 on certain days — beginning in May — when staffing levels are too low.

A reduced staff equated to squads, those reporting to stations in downtown or by Cedar Point, needing an additional two to five minutes on average to appear on scene in a given area in Sandusky.

In the most extreme case when station No. 7 is closed: Firefighters on Sandusky’s eastern end would need up to 12 minutes to arrive to a fire at the city’s westernmost point — but that’s only if a squad’s available. If all squads are busy, the arrival time would substantially rise.

Unfortunately, this worst-case scenario is playing out far too often.

“Just the other day, we had 10 emergency 911 calls in this station’s district, and station No. 7 was closed,” Brotherton said. “Some (estimated time of arrivals) to some calls were 11 to 13 minutes, and that is 100 percent unacceptable. In an emergency situation, that long of a response is not safe, and it will affect lives. That station needs to be open. Those citizens should be worried because in no way is it safe for them to have help arriving that far away.”

Despite wanting to, it’s unlikely city commissioners will make any efforts anytime soon in keeping this station open 24 hours a day.

“We don’t have the resources to do it,” Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. said. “I wish it were otherwise, but the decision in terms of which station to close from time to time … was made based on call volume, and we have the lowest number of calls at this particular station. Ideally, we want to get back to a point where we can fully fund fire operations. But right now, with the cuts the state has made, we can’t do that.”

At a glance: closing Sandusky Fire Station No. 7

• Budget cuts, paired with staffing reductions, forced city officials to close Sandusky Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road on days when staffing levels are too low.

• The station has closed for about three days a week since May and will continue doing so through at least October. There's no set closure schedule.

• In the most extreme case when station No. 7 closes: Firefighters on Sandusky’s eastern end would need up to 12 minutes to arrive at an emergency scene on the city’s westernmost point — but that’s only if a squad’s available. If all squads are busy, the arrival time would substantially rise.

 

Staffing shortage

A staffing shortage results from city commissioners cutting $1.1 million from their $16.3 million everyday operating budget earlier this year.

Reductions impacted fire operations harder than any other department, mainly because funds from a federal employment grant, maintaining 53 full-time positions for about three years, recently dried up, and local tax dollars can’t support this manpower level. Through people leaving and retiring, the number of full-time firefighters now totals 50.

Commissioners said one more position will be eliminated through attrition, eventually reducing full-time fire staffing levels to 49.

When commissioners approved the 2014 budget earlier this year, they originally said layoffs would need to occur if no fire employee had voluntarily left up until May. That didn’t end up happening.

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