Huber chiefs: Police, fire departments need additional personnel

Response times sometimes lag, chiefs say, due to lack of staff.

Huber Heights fire and police chiefs say they can decrease response times and increase services with a few more personnel among their ranks.

Today’s Huber Heights Fire Department has fewer firefighters than five years ago, despite an increase in calls of nearly 20 percent, Fire Chief Mark Ashworth said. And Police Chief Mark Lightner said it’s becoming more difficult to find people who truly want to be police officers given the current state of the country.

In reports to City Council this week, Lightner and Ashworth detailed a portrait of constant understaffing despite service demands higher than ever. Both department heads said additional personnel would improve response times in their respective departments.

Ideally, the chiefs said, 59 firefighters instead of 53 and 54 police officers instead of 47 would serve the community.

“We are running at a minimum staff and, in some cases, we’re understaffed,” Ashworth said.

In the police operation, Lightner described the force as a “solely reactive department.” He hopes to hire an additional officer soon to bring the department to 48 officers — still below what he’d ideally want.

“For years we’ve had guys in the police department asking, ‘when are we going to get all our staffing back?’ To 54, I’m talking, not 50,” Lightner said. “I have enough of a hard time keeping it at 50, but I’m getting there.”

“If I can get … back to 54, there’s a lot more proactive things that we can do,” he said.

In April 2015, Huber Heights voters overwhelmingly approved an income tax renewal that did not raise taxes, preventing nearly $2 million in cuts to public safety services.

The 0.25 percent, 10-year renewal levy — part two of a two-step process to maintain the current level of services — passed by a wide margin.

Had it failed, the city would have cut 14 public safety personnel — five police and nine firefighters, City Manager Rob Schommer said at the time. The revenue generated from the renewal is divided 40.5 percent to the police and fire, respectively, with the remainder directed to city operations and parks.

The fire department will return to 2009 staffing levels by the end of 2016, Ashworth said.

The department seeks an additional three firefighters in 2017, meaning staffing “will be considered minimal by national standards.” Ideally, Ashworth said, the city would hire six firefighters in 2017.

When responding to calls, Ashworth said the fire department goal should be a minimum three people on a fire apparatus and two on an ambulance at all times.

But when the third fire station comes online on the north end, the department will at first maintain the current number of firefighters. His report noted the “addition of Station 25 is being staffed with the current roster of 53 (firefighters) … at the sacrifice of dropping the staffing at Station 23 from a minimum of five to four personnel.”

With only three people assigned to Station 25, he said, it will only take one fire or EMS incident to take the station offline.

Personnel comprise the majority of the department budgets, records show.

Of the $7.2 million spent by the police department in 2014, $6.3 million went to personnel expenses. In the fire department, $6 million of the $6.7 million spent went to personnel expenses.

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