Medina adds temporary full-time firefighter

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Long-term staffing for department remains unresolved

MEDINA – The Medina Fire Department leaders have been asking the Village Board for a staffing increase the past two years, saying the call volume exceeds the manpower.

The board relented tonight, agreeing to add a temporary full-time firefighter for six months. That will give the Village Board more time to assess how to best fill the fire department’s staffing needs, whether with part-time paramedics or EMTs, temporary full-time employees or permanent full-time firefighters.

Mayor Andrew Meier wanted the village to try hiring two part-time medics, saying they would be less costly than a full-time firefighter, even one who is temporary. The temporary firefighter will receive healthcare and retirement benefits, which wouldn’t be offered to part-time staff.

Fire Chief Todd Zinkievich said he doubted the union would support working with part-time paramedics or EMTs, who wouldn’t be trained to handle fire calls as well. Jonathan Higgins, a captain with the Medina FD, said he was certain the union would reject part-time staff. The union represents 13 full-time firefighters. The group needs to vote on the temporary position before it is filled.

Medina FD already has a temporary firefighter but that person is due to leave soon for a military commitment, Zinkievich said.

The department has been struggling with the demands of a rising call volume with its staff of 13. Higgins and Mike Maak, another captain with the MFD, believe the department has justified the need for more staff and created revenue to pay for the added manpower.

The temporary firefighter should cost about $31,000 over six months, according to village officials. The position was supported by trustees Mark Kruzynski, Marguerite Sherman and Mike Sidari. Meier and Trustee Mark Irwin opposed it, wanting to give two part-timers a try.

“You get double the manpower for the same cost,” Meier said.

But Zinkievich said the village would be hard-pressed to find part-time paramedics or EMTs for the $12 an hour suggested by Meier. Part-time staff will have their first allegiance to their full-time job, Zinkievich said.

“My concern is part-time won’t work,” Zinkievich said. “I can look you in the eye and tell you that.”

The Medina Fire Department’s career staff is cross-trained for fire and ambulance calls. Higgins said there would likely be divisions in the department towards staff that only responded to ambulance calls.

Meier said the department should be able to handle any animosities. He expected the firefighters would welcome added staff, even part-timers, if they helped with the workload.

Kruzynski made the motion to hire the temporary full-time firefighter to give the department some needed manpower while giving the Village Board more time to sort out a longer-term solution.

“I’m feeling the necessity of this,” he said.

Meier worries that projections for more revenue may miss target, resulting in a tax increase for villagers, who he said are already overtaxed.

The ambulance generated $1,016,000 in revenues during the 2013-14 fiscal year that ended May 31. That was up from the $900,000 that budgeted, but down from the $1,064,000 that was expected in April when the fiscal year had about two months remaining.

Maak said he has been frustrated by the board’s indecisiveness about the issue. Many of the firefighters are getting burned out from too much overtime and too little time off, Maak said.

“We’ve been getting our tail ends handed to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, the call volume increases. The calls are up by 177 from the same point as a year ago, and up by 270 from the same point two years ago, Zinkievich said.

“These guys are working so hard,” he said. “I can’t work them any harder.”

Meier agreed more staff was needed, but the question remains how to fill the need.

“It’s not whether or not you need help, it’s what help can we afford,” he said.