Residents fight for fire

Petition asks city officials to restore full service at Fire Station No. 7
Andy Ouriel
Jun 17, 2014

 

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.

Comments

MrSandusky

Nothing will change until some person or child dies because of the response time. Then the City Commissioners will line up behind Murray and say that they never wanted this and it is such a tragedy that this happened. All while trying to wash the blood off of their hands.

I hope it does not come to this. But if it does come to that scenario, I hope the parents hire a law firm to go after the commission members past and present to expose what is really going on here. Sandusky deserves better than this, and the citizens on the Westside should be demonstrating in front of the commission members homes and in front of the Murray Building with signs, rather than signing a non-binding petition that will just get laughed at.

Then, they will miraculously find the funds to keep the station open, or work to develop an alternative schedule to solve this issue.

Scannerman

1 more person leaving will bring them down to 49? Someone better check their numbers, they're already below that. How low will it go?

reader

The city commission has been derelict in their duty to provide adequate fire service to the west end.

And I hear no proposals from any commissioner to solve the revenue shortfall responsible for the cuts. I guess their neighborhoods haven't been affected.

goodtime1212

I do agree the commissioners can do a much better job, the S.F.D. can take a few steps to help them self's. There is a 40 hour guy in fire prevention dept. Although this is an important service, he dose not run fire calls during the day to help out when man power is low. The officer in charge of the shift can stop going to fire calls in the s.u.v. and ride in the officer seat in the engine, also he should be in full gear. Yes I know he has to be in command, but if man power is low he can help for the first few min. until power arrives, have to do what you have to do. The union has been fighting hiring part-time firefighters for years, Perkins, Huron, Margaretta, all have paid on call, part time, what ever you want to call them, its time the city dose what they need to do, if the union wants to use the safety card they need to open all options

MJKSON44

The shift commander has to respond the way he does it's crucial to the incident that someone be in charge on the outside from the get go. The City has already gotten rid of the battalion chiefs they can't take away the shift commanders part of the operation. Sandusky goes to more fires than all those other departments put together in one year it's not a place to hire part timers to learn the job.

bayshore

I take exception to your comment regarding part time (or volunteer) fire fighters being less qualified then full time fire fighters. The townships surrounding Sandusky repeatedly send mutual aide, when requested, and you can bet not all of those men and women are full time fire fighters.
The city of Oregon, OH operates a volunteer fire department, manning 3 stations. This is a city of 20,000 residents covering 28 square miles and home to two large oil refineries. There is no reason that Sandusky cannot incorporate part time employees to augment the full time fire department staff.

goodtime1212

I did not say to take away the shift commander or scene commander, the scene commander Can help with operation if need be until help arrives. also there is no need to ride in an SUV, that is what the officer seat is for. Sandusky is not the big city they think they are. Your comment about part-timers not being trained shows you don't not understand how things work. A few of Sandusky's full time staff work part-time on other Dept. (there union dose not like this at all) Most part-timers are Ohio professional firefighter certified, with there medic. card, trying to get a full time job.
The bottom line is if the city gets more then they can handle they call Perkins, Huron, Margarretta in to help, and NO ONE asked if there a full time or part time.

topcop1991

No one has ever said part-timers or volunteers are bad firefighters. However, most have full time job elsewhere and cannot respond at all calls when needed.
I am in agreement with the Captains in the front seat, and he can take command of the scene until the Asst Chief arrives. No one should be exempt from putting on the gear and doing the job when the situation calls for it.
As for the Fire Inspector, that is an important position, but what is wrong with him responding to fires?

KURTje

Keep it up. That's why there is insurance.

DGMutley

Why can't 2 emts be staffed at Fire Station #7 without a pumper? There isn't anything in the fire dept's contract that requires that the pumper be staged at the same location as the emts.

2 emts can be dispatched from #7 with a pumper dispatched from #1.

In fact, there isn't any provision in the contract that requires a pumper to be dispatched with the emts. Furthermore, the contract spells out that the city has the right to manage the fire department's scheduling.

See below:

ARTICLE 4
MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

4.1 The Union shall recognize the right and authority of the Employer to administer the
business of the City and the Fire Department and in addition to other functions and responsibilities which are required by law, the Union shall recognize that the Employer has and will retain the full right and responsibility to direct the operations of the City and the Fire Department, to implement reasonable rules and regulations and to otherwise exercise the prerogatives of management, and more particularly, including but not limited to, the following:

A. To manage and direct its employees, including the right to select, hire, promote, transfer, assign, evaluate, layoff, recall, reprimand, suspend, discharge or discipline for just cause, and to maintain order among employees;

B. To manage and to determine the location, type and number of physical facilities, equipment and the work to be performed on the condition that the Employer take such steps as are reasonably necessary, and which are within its ability to reasonably implement to provide for the safety of employees in the discharge of their duties, and to afford them equipment and material adequate to permit them to complete the same.

C. To determine the City's goals, objectives, programs, and services, and to utilize personnel in a manner designed to effectively meet these purposes;

D. To determine the size and composition of the work force and the City's organizational structure, including the right to relieve employees from duty due to lack of work or lack of funds;

E. To determine the hours of work, work schedules and to establish the necessary and reasonable work rules for all employees, unless otherwise specified in this agreement;

F. To determine when a job vacancy exists, the duties to be included in all job classifications, and the standards of quality and performance to be maintained;

G. To maintain the security of records and other pertinent information pursuant
to applicable laws.

The Answer Person

Well folks you can't have it both ways.
Pay more and have services or not.
Why not try to improve the schools, get more industry instead of play parks and pass some levies?

DEATHnTAXES

Open your wallet and checkbook like you always preach. Watch out for the moths when you do.