Fire chief’s plan under fire

Ricci storms out of meeting after decision delayed.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 11, 2013
Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci stormed out of Monday’s city meeting after commissioners refused to make a decision on fire department finances.

Ricci pleaded with commissioners to shift $1 million from an equipment and vehicle account to payroll purposes, a move thatwould preserve six fulltime firefighter positions in 2014 and 2015. A federal grant covering these salaries expired a few days ago.

There could be consequences if the city’s fulltime fire staffing levels drop from 53 to 47, according to Ricci.

A smaller staff would mean: q Increasing response times for crews headed to fires and other emergencies. On average, it could jump from 2 minutes to 4 minutes.

• Closing Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road by Toft Dairy and Fire Station No. 3 near Cedar Point.

• Giving priority to certain emergencies rather than responding to calls on a first-come, first-served basis.

Commissioners effectively delayed Ricci’s proposal until January, which lets a newly elected set of commissioners decide the issue.

The inaction at Monday’s meeting frustrated Ricci and about 10 other firefighters who attended.

“These are tough times. These are extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Sandusky fire Capt. Dave Degnan said. “This is a one-time deal, and you can hang me on a cross if they do it again”

Commissioners and city officials knew about a year ago they’d be facing this problem, and yet they still did nothing, Ricci said.

“I am wasting my time,” Ricci said just before he stormed out of the commission chambers.

Ricci couldn’t understand why money from one fire account — coined EMS, for vehicle and equipment purchases — couldn’t be swapped into the fire payroll account.

The EMS account, fueled by ambulance billing, today shows a balance of about $1.8 million. Even after paying out six salaries and accounting for other expenses, the EMS funds should still total about $900,000 in 2015.

“You have to do the right thing, and that’s spending down the fund and reallocating the money,” Ricci said. “This is about serving the city and community and not letting six firefighters wonder if they are going to have a job next year because we can’t make a decision in this room”

Commissioners voted 4-2 against Ricci’s proposal, with Diedre Cole, John Hamilton, Wes Poole and Jeff Smith opposing and Pervis Brown and Julie Farrar in favor. Commissioner Keith Grohe didn’t attend the meeting.

Budget estimates show Sandusky, by early next year, projecting a $1 million deficit in its $16 million 2014 budget. There’s no room in the fire department’s $5.2 million 2014 budget to fund these positions.

Several unappealing options exist to offset the looming deficit by March, including raising taxes, laying off workers or spending down the city’s $4 million surplus.

The fire department accounts for about half the projected deficit. Another $500,000 shortfall derives from cuts in local government funds and the elimination of estate taxes city officials previously collected.

Where commissioners stand on Ricci’s plan
Commissioners and others offered views on Ricci’s proposal at Monday’s meeting. Here’s what some had to say:

“I believe that the existing commission (would do) a disservice to our community by acting on this. We’re already starting the budget process with one hand tied behind our backs. We’ll end up with both hands behind our back.”  — Dick Brady, commissioner-elect

“We have the funds that is already allocated to the fire department. It’s just a line item change. To me, the equipment doesn’t save lives. Men save lives. “I’m not going to substitute equipment for manpower.” — Pervis Brown, commissioner

“This presentation is wasted on this commission. The new commission has the authority to undo whatever we do. We knew it was coming, and we did absolutely nothing to prepare for it. We relied on Chief Ricci to come up with a Plan B, and now we are not happy with Plan B.” — Diedre Cole, commissioner

“I don’t think a big company like Cedar Point would want Fire Station No. 3 to close if they had a big fire.” — Julie Farrar, commissioner

“It’s horrible that the city is looking at significant layoffs, but we are going to have to spread that obligation and that burden around. It is unreasonable to think your department should be immunized from the cuts that (could) be made.” — Dennis Murray Jr. commissioner-elect

“I do think it was a waste and untimely on your part, since this is a decision that’s going to be made next year.” — Wes Poole, commissioner

“We should work on the budget. We don’t want to let anyone go. But at this time, as tough as the budget is, we would do our citizens a disservice. We need to worry about it at the same time we work (on the budget.)” — Jeff Smith, commissioner

Comments

sandusky2012

dont get my way so let me throw a fit!!!!!!

mikesee

Just curious if anyone knows how Sandusky rates versus towns in similar size for manpower. How many stations is there?

DEATHnTAXES

How did we get along fire and EMS wise before the grant supported firefighter were added?

Retiredfirefighter

most of the time station 3 was closed and all squad and fire calls for the east end come out of the central fire station

xbreawq33

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brutusthedog

What a girl just take your ball and go home. That money needs to stay there to buy new firetrucks or squads that cost about 1m each. I don't know where he thinks the taxpayers can allow him to move money from one area to another because he wanted to same grant funded jobs. I hope there is some other way where the firemen can keep their jobs.

goodtime1212

Yep, lets buy new fire trucks and get rid of 6 firefighters. That's the best way to spend our money and serve the tax payers, you must be buddy's with Gunner out in Perkins.

bnjjad

A garage full of pretty new red fire trucks is pretty useless unless there are people to use them. I know this is only 6 positions but if you are shutting down the Venice Road station, that has 1 truck and 1 squad that are fairly new themselves. Where are they going to go and what will be their use?

Retiredfirefighter

bnjjad 917 is actually central stations old squad i beleive. Dont quote me on it though because im not sure.

Retiredfirefighter

Hey jerk you want to pay higher taxes? You really have no clue how much a truck or ambulance cost. To replace 922 it will cost 550,000 dollars not 1 million like you claim. If a fire department bought a truck that cost that dam much then they have no clue how to budget. I think chief ricci was very forward thinking to move the money to keep those 6 firefighters and keep station 3 and station 7 open

KnuckleDragger

Well they could save a significant amount of money on an ambulance if they went to mini-mods instead of medium duties on an international chassis. For the number of miles that the department puts on these vehicles and there current usage there is no need for a medium duty. A mini-mod only costs around $100K and with a diesel engine will last 300+K miles. They could also save money by just doing a rechassis where they buy only the chassis and have the box removed, refurbished and placed on a new chassis. There already is a service in the area that has experience with this, with good results. They have even been doing rechassis for other services. There are quite a few money saving options including leasing.

topcop1991

Sandusky is a decaying city! If it were not for Cedar Point, it would have gone under years ago. The buildings are old, no growth of significant structures, and we are asking our Police and Fire to hold the line even though everyday their jobs get tougher.
When the city accepted this grant, they also made a committment to those firefighters that they would have a job. These are highly trained individuals who risk their lives everytime an alarm goes off, without hesitation! The community is safer 24/7 because these men and others like them stand ready to respond to every emergency. The commission should let the Chief run his department and they should start looking at slimming down administrative costs, i.e. an underworked and overpaid city manager!

mikesee

Thats the problem with Obama giving out those grants. Many municipalities know they can not afford to keep these individuals after grant money goes away but they hire them anyways. This can be said for law enforcement and teachers as well.

Fireside

WRONG! Please fact check.

mikesee

Really? Here is the fact!

Fireside

Sorry, not you mikesee. Topcop....no promise of a career was made.

mikesee

Gotcha.

Retiredfirefighter

Fireside actually you are wrong. When the city took that money it was with the understanding that they would find the money after the grant ran out to keep those 6 firefighters on shift. Those are the facts.

Fireside

please check the public record and the video of the meeting. This was all discussed. NO offer to keep em, but it was discussed how they would TRY, if there were retirements.

Geez75

How can these "commissioners" be so apathetic? Make a decision one way or the other! My Grandfather was a fireman for Sandusky many years ago, and it is my understanding that fire trucks and EMS vehicles can be maintained. Isn't part of a fireman's duty to maintain their equipment? I see no need to buy new every other year, especially when there are 6 highly trained jobs on the line. Their jobs are tough enough! Lets just make them tougher, genius!!!

Retiredfirefighter

Geez well said. If you take good care of those trucks you can get a good 10 to 15 years out of them before they start to need to be replaced. Look at 922 it is 15 years old and is now just starting to show it age to where it needs to be replaced.

sandusky2012

what is the firefighters pay scale? including managements?

mikesee

They want $1,000,000 to cover the wages/benefits of 6 firefighters for 2 years. This equates to approximately $83,000 per firefighter per year!

Geez75

And worth every penny! They are Freaking HEROS for crying out loud!

Smoke

Ricco,why don't you and the other 47 fire fighters take cut in pay to keep those badly needed 6 fire fighters?Sorry,I forgot that's not the union way.

Jmschmidt812

Well at least one part of your comment was right. Yeah you are sorry that about sums it up. It's the unions fault that there's extra money that could be allocated to payroll and still leave a surplus in the same account. How does the union have any control over how the city mismanages it's spending. You have a city manager that's getting overpaid. Made statements about what was going to change in the city, and still hasn't come to fruition. Doesn't show up to finance meetings held by local volunteers because she's obviously way to busy doing nothing. So go ask her to take a pay cut along with some other city leaders. Or is that not the way of a salaried employee?

Retiredfirefighter

why dont you try running into a burning buidling and see if you like getting paid low wages before you open your mouth.

Geez75

THANK YOU! I can not believe people think that these men are getting overpaid! they aren't getting kittens out of trees they are saving your kids, wives, mothers and friends!

Paul E. Ricci

It is always good to see spirited debate and questions regarding any topic on the website. I find great value in hearing the opinions of others within the community. I can provide answers to your questions, unfortunately, there is inadequate space here, within this forum to show you all the documents, especially the payroll, vehicle replacement schedules and the staffing reports. I would like to invite each of you to come to the Central Fire Station to view these documents, ask questions and perhaps we can come to some understanding of the needs of the community and the fire department. I believe through open and honest discussion, common ground is achievable allowing us to solve any challenge. Thank you again for your comments and I am looking forward to your visit.

Respectfully,

Paul E. Ricci - Fire Chief

2cents

Nice post Paul, it shows your sincerity. Most posting here do not know your dedication to the job and it's requirements.

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