Fire union calls staffing levels, closed West Dayton station a safety risk

Union VP: ‘If we die for this city, let it be an honorable death, knowing that you have our backs.’

A fire station in West Dayton that has most often been closed for multiple years is being called a safety concern in harsh comments this week by some firefighters, leading to questions from city leaders.

The Dayton firefighters union says the fire department’s current minimum staffing level is dangerously low, and that Station 10 in the 1200 block of South Broadway Street should be put back into service.

“Provide us with the appropriate staffing and apparatus to do our job, so we don’t widow our spouses and bastardize our children,” Stephen Post, vice president of the Dayton Firefighters Local 136, said at a city commission meeting this week. “If we die for this city, let it be an honorable death, knowing that you have our backs.”

A couple of Dayton city commissioners also raised concerns about the potential public safety impact on that part of the city when station 10 sits empty.

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said the city continues to closely analyze its emergency runs, fire service and apparatus deployment to evaluate response times and other measures of public safety.

She said a pilot program has launched that seeks to help reduce the number of emergency runs medics are making. Dayton’s fire department responded to a record 41,000 calls for service last year.

Station 10

The Dayton Fire Department has a dozen fire stations, plus a headquarters, a fire fleet garage and training center.

Engine 10, located in the Edgemont neighborhood about a mile west of Welcome Stadium, has been “browned out” — meaning put out of service — regularly in recent years.

Engine 10 was “in service” 62% of the time in 2018, but by 2022 that had fallen to less than 17% of the time, fire department data show.

Eleven fire stations are staffed full time, and station 10 is put into service when there is adequate staffing available, fire officials said.

The fire department’s daily minimum staffing level is 63 personnel, said Dayton fire Chief Jeff Lykins.

That allows the department to man seven engines, four ladder trucks, seven medic units and one basic life support transport unit, the chief said. That staffing level also includes two district chiefs and an incident support unit.

When more personnel than that are on duty, the fire department operates additional fire apparatus, including engine 10, Lykins said. The fire department sometimes uses overtime to meet minimum staffing levels.

Lykins said the firefighters union would like the department’s daily minimum staffing level to be increased to include staffing for engine 10 and medic 10.

However, Lykins said that would cost nearly $1 million more than the department’s current proposed 2023 budget of $46.9 million.

Fire engines respond with a lieutenant and three firefighters, while medic units respond with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician, Lykins said. Staffing an engine and a medic unit at station 10 would require six personnel.

The Dayton Fire Department’s 2023 budget authorizes 308 positions, which does not include recruits.

Kraig Robinson, president of Dayton Firefighters Local 136, said the union has provided the city manager with what would be essentially a “cost-neutral budget solution” that would allow medic 10 to be put into service.

He said the proposal would only cost the city about $6,000 more than what it already plans to spend in 2023.

“For a few dollars more, we can provide the service delivery that the citizens of Dayton deserve,” Robinson said.

The city’s budget includes nearly $570,000 to fund a pilot program that sends a basic life support unit (ambulance 11) to some emergency calls, city officials said. Ambulance 11, which has two emergency medical technicians aboard (but no higher-trained paramedic), has operated since November.

The purpose of the pilot program is to help reduce the workload of frontline medics, said Chief Lykins.

About 60% of the fire department’s emergency medical service runs are categorized as basic life support runs that do not require advanced life-saving skills (paramedic-level response), he said.

Staffing a basic life support transport unit with two emergency medical technicians is less expensive than utilizing paramedic-trained personnel, Lykins said.

Robinson said Dayton used basic life support units decades ago but switched to advanced life saving units because paramedics provide the highest level of critical pre-hospital care.

Also, he said, when station 10 is out of service, it strains fire resources.

Station 10 covers multiple neighborhoods that have been identified as priority areas by the Dayton Recovery Plan, including Carillon and Edgemont, Robinson said. The recovery plan is the city’s blueprint for how it will spend its $138 million in federal COVID rescue funds.

Post, the vice president of the union, said it’s only a matter of time before a firefighter is killed if the department does not have enough staffing.

“This staffing will not guarantee we avoid tragic loss, but it certainly minimizes those risks significantly,” he said.

Station 10 was in operation on Wednesday, and fire crews there quickly responded to an emergency at a truck repair shop that was just blocks away on West Stewart Street.

Fire department personnel helped rescue four people, two of whom were unconscious, after they reportedly were trapped in a below-ground space and may have inhaled dangerous fumes.

The closest fire station to Station 10 is Station 13 on West Third Street, about 1.5 miles away, the city said.

Dayton City Commissioner Shenise Turner-Sloss said she does not understand why the city is browning out station 10 when city voters in 2016 supported an income tax hike (called Issue 9) that was supposed to help fund public safety services.

City Manager Dickstein said the city vowed as part of the Issue 9 campaign to maintain fire protection levels — not increase them.

She said the city started the browning out practice roughly a dozen years ago, and Station 8 used to be taken out of service.

But she said the city later decided to brown out Station 10 based on an analysis of emergency runs and calls and other information.

Commissioner Darryl Fairchild told the city manager he wants to see an assessment that shows emergency response times in the area of the city served by Station 10.

Commissioner Chris Shaw the city will evaluate the pilot program, and he is eager to find out if it successfully achieves its goals.

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