Fire department plans changes to avoid ‘breaking point’

West Carrollton has lost 11 part-time workers in year to full-time jobs elsewhere.

West Carrollton is adding benefits and hours for some part-time firefighting jobs, seeking to stave off staff shortages that could threaten to temporarily close a station.

The department is hiring six part-time employees who each will work 48 hours a week — 24 hours at a time — and receive health insurance benefits. The move is designed to end a struggle to find enough trained firefighter-EMTs to provide 24-hour coverage, said West Carrollton Fire Chief Chris Barnett.

The department’s full-time firefighters work 56-hour weeks, he said.

The restructuring to start this month is the result of a trend that sees part-time employees – which West Carrollton heavily depends on – leaving for full-time positions in other jurisdictions, flirting with a “breaking point” that increases the risk of a “brown out” at one of the two stations in the city, Barnett said.

In the past year West Carrollton has lost 11 part-time employees to full-time opportunities elsewhere, according to the city. It now has about 30 part-timers and seven full-timers, increasing the likelihood of added overtime expenses, Barnett said.

“We have had some times where we had to be creative in our scheduling, and we’ve had to ask people to come in on overtime – our career staff – to make sure the station stays open,” he said. “And it’s always difficult to try and manage part-time people’s hours.”

“I’m sure we’ve had times where the station – for a brief period of time – we didn’t have anybody there,” Barnett said when asked if any station had to be temporarily shut down.

“But generally speaking, no. We’ve had times where people called off sick, and we had to move some people around or we had to call in folks to cover the station.”

The change is expected to contain costs in the department’s $1.57 million annual budget, said City Manager Brad Townsend.

“I applaud Chief Barnett for coming up with a creative idea that is also fiscally responsible,” he stated in an email. “We hope this plan will alleviate scheduling concerns and also provide more continuity within the department.

“The additional costs of providing health insurance should be balanced out by lower overtime expense as well as reduced hiring costs associated with outfitting new employees,” Townsend added.

The staffing issues come at a time when emergency calls in the city are increasing. More than 2,250 calls were answered in 2015, a 7-percent increase from the previous year and a 14-percent jump from 2013, according to the city.

Yet a West Carrollton-commissioned Wright State University survey completed last year found that 99 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with city paramedic and fire services.

Part of the recruitment issue is that enrollment in schools that train firefighters has “dropped off dramatically,” Barnett said. In the first five months of this year, the West Carrollton Fire Department received only a few applications, according to Barnett.

However, when the department let it be known of its plans to restructure, it was “flooded” with applications and is set to begin the plan June 13.

This plan will allow the department to lower the number of part-time employees, which costs West Carrollton about $3,000 for each hire, Barnett said.