The Perrysburg Fire Department temporarily has reduced its minimum shift from five firefighters to four for a second straight year to reduce overtime pay to stay within its budget.
No regular staff hours will be cut, but replacements won’t be called in to cover vacations or sick days unless shift manpower is already at four. Fire Chief Jeff Klein said the reduction has saved about $14,000 since its implementation in late March.
The chief said the department so far had spent about $1,500 more than provided in its overtime budget, and he said he hopes to reinstate overtime for five-person shifts early next month.
“The goal is to maintain a five-person shift. [Four] is not optimal,” Chief Klein said while noting the department remains in compliance with National Fire Protection Agency standards.
The department trimmed minimum staffing last year in June and early July to stay within its $390,000 overtime budget. This year, it is $400,000. The department has 24 full-time employees.
However, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3331, representing Perrysburg, said it finds the reduced manpower troublesome.
“We still don’t think it is a safe way to operate the department,” said Michelle Sullivan, the union’s attorney. “Ideally a six-person minimum is what the union wants, but we’re willing to live with five.”
The chief said that while four is the minimum, often five, six, or seven firefighters are on duty.
Councilman Todd Grayson said the fire department should consider keeping four as the minimum shift.
“I firmly believe the our reduced staffing can maintain a high-quality standard of service,” he said. “My wish is we could work on the reduced staff level more often so we would not be in a bind with overtime hours.” He said that residents’ top complaint is that the department sends fire trucks on ambulance calls.
Ms. Sullivan said having only four people per shift compromises the department’s ability to handle two calls at once. A five-person crew can send the fire truck to the second call if the medical crew handles the first, but that’s harder to do with one less person.
Chief Klein said no problems arose during last year’s cutback. While Ms. Sullivan agreed, she said the practice is still a gamble.