April 23, 2014

Elyria
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Fire station sale may be in Elyria’s future

ELYRIA — Elyria fire officials say they’re bracing for what they suspect will be a permanent move by Mayor Bill Grace to make massive changes in the fire department, including the sale of one fire station and permanently lowering manpower levels.

Grace already has said it’s “very likely” that the current staffing levels — 14 men per shift, rather than the previous 17 — will be permanent, though he’s less certain about the fate of Elyria Fire Station No. 2 on East Broad Street.

CHRONICLE FILE
Plans being considered by city officials may include the sale of Fire Station No. 2 on Broad Street.

That fire station has been closed intermittently since this past summer, when Grace reduced the manpower.

Elyria firefighters said they have been hearing for weeks that Grace is poised to sell Fire Station No. 2, but Grace has repeatedly said the idea is only being investigated and is by no means a certainty.

In addition to the possibility of selling the station, handwritten notes from an Oct. 22 meeting between Elyria Fire Chief John Zielinski and some of his staff, obtained through a public records request by The Chronicle-Telegram, shed light on some of the other changes Grace has proposed.

The notes, written by Zielinski, are essentially a tic list of items Grace had discussed with the chief. Grace said Thursday that the list contains possibilities, nothing more.

They are:

  • Permanently closing Fire Station No. 2 and restructuring the city into three districts instead of the current four.
  • Holding manpower at 14 men.
  • Taking fire dispatch duties away from the Fire Department and turning it over to 911 dispatchers.
  • Purchasing a new ladder truck that could cost in the neighborhood of $1 million.
  • Operating each shift with three engines, one ladder truck and one command vehicle.
     

Grace said the fate of Fire Station No. 2 is at least worth examining.

The manpower reductions could, for the foreseeable future, render at least one of the four Elyria fire stations unnecessary, and Fire Station No. 2 is the most likely target for a number of reasons: It’s not far from Fire Station No. 1 on Cedar Street; it doesn’t have the facilities and space that Station No. 1 has; and it doesn’t have decent sleeping quarters, Zielinski said.

Grace said if the city somehow gains finances to return to four fire stations, it would benefit more from having a fourth fire station farther east on Broad Street — approximately at state Route 57 —because it would provide quicker access to the southeastern area where the city has grown since Fire Station No. 2 was built.

All of those factors added together could mean that Fire Station No. 2, which was built in 1990, might end up on the market.

“Marketing that property may be a decision that comes in the coming months,” Grace said recently, cautioning that any major decisions will be made by City Council.

Grace said neither he nor any of his staff have received purchase offers from area businesses interested in buying the station.

Needless to say, the changes — even if they are just proposed — aren’t being readily embraced by the firefighters.
In an inter-office memo to Zielinski, obtained Thursday through a public records request by The Chronicle, Elyria Fire Marshal Bob Dempsey lambasted the mayor’s plans.

“His plan is very problematic to the efficient operations of the Elyria Fire Department,” Dempsey wrote, referencing each of the changes that Grace is considering. “There is a continual lack of open discussion with our department management and, most importantly, the citizens of Elyria.”

Dempsey devoted much of the letter to convincing Zielinski that Fire Station No. 1, built in 1964 and the oldest among the four stations, should be sold instead of Station No. 2 because Station No. 1 is located near railroad tracks and sits next to a chemical plant.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.