October 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria firefighter staffing cuts occur today

ELYRIA — Fire Station No. 2 on Broad Street will be closed today to help the Elyria Fire Department deal with a budget shortfall.

Elyria Firefighters Local 474 planned a press conference this morning to discuss the closing, the second time the station has closed in three years, Assistant Fire Chief Ron Brlas said.

Brlas said he expects Elyria to have to rely even more on mutual aid from Lorain and Avon.

“The main thing I want to get across is that this does not affect just one part of the city,” Brlas said.

Mayor Bill Grace said the closing is regrettable.

“I would very much like to keep the four stations open,” Grace said. “Finances don’t allow us to maintain minimal staffing.”
Dean Marks, vice president of the union, said Grace asked Fire Chief John Zielinski to keep all four stations open while cutting minimum staffing from 17 to 15.

“The chief told him, ‘I cannot safely do that,’ ” Marks said.

This will be the second closing of the Broad Street station in three years. The station, which serves the city’s eastern and southern neighborhoods, was closed from November 2004 to August 2005 for budgetary reasons when minimum staffing was cut to 14.

Marks said no one can really know the human costs relating to the closing in 2004 and ’05, but firefighters did alert City Council to an incident in which a man died of a heart attack.

Marks said Elyria firefighters “had a 9-minute response to that house,” while the city was operating with only three stations. A response time of 4 minutes or less is desired, Marks said.

Grace said Elyria still had good fire coverage during the previous closing. Insurance ratings from 1 to 10 — with 1 the best — dropped from a 4 to a 5 during the last closing, according to Grace, who said insurance rates are not affected unless the rating reaches 7.

The mayor said the city will continue to schedule 21 firefighters on one shift and 22 on the second shift, but the actual numbers drop once sick leave is taken into account, along with time off and days when firefighters are sent home because they have worked in excess of certain hourly requirements.

Grace said the closing of the Broad Street station is regrettable, but the fire department was on pace to spend $300,000 to $400,000 in excess of its budget. Even with the closing, the department may be $100,000 over its budget, he said.

At least one councilmember said Sunday his constituents were upset about the closing.

“At church today, people were concerned about their safety and worried if something happens,” said Robert Hartman, R-1st Ward, which contains Station 2.

Hartman suggested that Grace look elsewhere to “cut pork.”

“I know it costs a lot of money to run the police and fire departments, but they’re top heavy (in staffing) through the administration,” Hartman said.

The situation is complicated by the fact that firefighters have been working about a year without a contract and are in federal arbitration or mediation, said Thomas Callahan, D-at large.

“I plan to sit down with the mayor and members of the fire department,” he said.

Last year, firefighters racked up $871,338 in overtime. In 2005 firefighters received $579,358 in overtime, and in 2004, the department’s employees collected $761,000 in extra pay.

Contact Cindy Leise at 653-6250 or cleise@chroniclet.com.