September 2, 2014

Elyria
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Cuts ahead for Elyria fire station staffs

ELYRIA — Elyria officials say minimum staffing levels at the city’s fire stations will be “indefinitely” reduced from 17 to 14 on Monday to help the fire department make budget this year, but Elyria Fire Chief John Zielinski warns the move will put the safety of residents and fire crews at risk.

“It’s a pretty simple effort to help them reach their budget,” Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said. “It’s the only option to help them reach their budget.”

Starting 8 a.m. Monday, minimum staffing levels at the city’s four fire stations will taken to 14, rather than the current 17, Grace said.

The flux will almost certainly result in sporadic shutdowns at Fire Station No. 2 on Broad Street, as well as delayed response times to any number of emergency calls, Zielinski said.

“I’m very concerned at times like this about my firefighters being safe,” Zielinski said. “It’s not like I’ve done nothing to try to cut costs in the department — we’ve moved money around from one line item to another.”

The staffing cut announced Friday mirrors a move city officials made in November 2004, which also triggered the closing of one fire station. The cut that year lasted until August 2005.

Grace said the cuts will likely last until the end of the year and possibly longer.

“This may very well be indefinite,” Grace said. “This is our only option available to help them reach their budget.”

Grace said the fire department is on pace to be $300,000 to $400,000 over budget. In July, the fire department was on pace to reduce its overtime expenditures from the previous year, when they’d shelled out about $900,000 for overtime. Halfway through this year, the department had spent $304,276 on overtime, but city officials said it likely wouldn’t be enough to spare a fire station from closing.

Zielinski said the budget projections for 2007 — submitted at the end of 2006 — showed that his department needed an additional $576,000 to continue operating effectively.

“I put the budget in and told them that (was) what we felt it’s going to take to run the department,” Zielinski said. “They cut that budget — specifically fringe benefits and personnel services — by $593,000.

“I told them (it) wouldn’t get me to the end of the year,” Zielinski said. “They said try to make it work, keep overtime down.”

Despite cutting overtime, the department and city found itself looking for other options as well.

“They’re not giving me enough to succeed and get through the year,” Zielinski said. “Basically, I got a memo from the safety-service director today indicating they’re dropping our manning level from 17 to 14.”

Zielinski said that whenever the minimum staffing is reduced below the 17-man threshold, it almost certainly means that Fire Station No. 2 on Broad Street will close, with the remaining staff from that station being dispersed to Station No. 3 off state Route 57, No. 1 on Cedar Street and No. 4 on Abbe Road.

When the staffing levels were reduced in 2004 and 2005, for instance, station No. 2 was closed at least 50 percent of the time, Zielinski said.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.