Brownouts in the West Carrollton Fire Department are being attributed to staff shortages. FILE

City adding full-time firefighters to rescue it from station brownouts

Brownouts are temporary closures.

The city will convert two part-time spots into two full-time positions as a short-term solution to the staffing shortages that have prompted brownouts at both West Carrollton fire stations, according to City Manager Brad Townsend.

“This is one step that can be taken now under the current budget to help alleviate the strain and limit the number of times that a medic needs to be out of service,” Townsend said in an email.

A long-term strategy may involve more funding to help transform a department that has relied on part-time firefighters, which West Carrollton has had trouble keeping in recent years, he said.

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“We’ve been successful,and it’s been economical, for years,” Townsend said of the reliance of part-timers. “But it may be time to consider moving more toward full-time compliment.”

Seeking to keep both Station 56 on West Central Avenue and Station 57 on South Alex Road open has cost the city overtime, but brownouts have led to slower service, Fire Chief Chris Barnett stated in a memo this month.

“Browning out apparatus or temporarily closing a fire station results in a reduction in our daily firefighting and emergency response force,” the memo states. “This means fewer fire/EMS personnel will be available to the same number of emergency requests for service. Longer response times in areas impacted by the brownouts….result.”

While full brownouts occurred at both fire stations last year, city records show the overwhelming majority of the service shutdowns have been limited to ambulances at Station 56 on West Central Avenue, where officials said fewer runs originate.

The ambulance at that station was shut down for about 90 days in 2018 because of staff shortages, Barnett said. Entire station brownouts happened 2.5 days last year, he said.

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No full station brownouts have occurred since September, when Station 56 shutdown for 24 hours and Station 57 on South Alex Road was shuttered for five hours, records show.

“This is what we’re trying to help prevent,” Barnett said.

The fire department has operated with seven full-timers, which include Barnett, three captains and three firefighter paramedics, Townsend said. A staff of part-timers that totaled 45 three years ago is now at 23, the fire chief said.

Part-timers are more difficult to recruit and retain, Barnett said, because fewer people are interested in the profession in recent years.

The cost of new full-time positions will be paid for this year by moving $35,000 out of the part-time salaries portion of department’s budget - which is projected to be $50,000 under budget - to the full-time salaries portion of their budget, Townsend said.

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Those who make it a career may work in West Carrollton until a more lucrative, full-time opportunity comes their way, officials said.

The department serves a city with a population of about 13,000 on a $1.6 million annual budget, Townsend said. By comparison, the budget this year for the Miami Valley Fire District serving Miamisburg and Miami Twp. – a combined population of about 50,000 – is about $9.5 million.

“We know a long-term solution will probably require additional funding - including possibly - a small boost to the part-time salaries to stay competitive with other departments, as well as additional full-time staff,” according to Townsend.

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