Medina FD seeks additional full-time firefighters

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Mayor, Village Board may add part-time EMTs

MEDINA – The Medina Fire Department once again is pressing the Village Board to add additional full-time staff for the Fire Department, which continues to see an increase in calls.

Those calls are taxing the department’s 13 full-time firefighters who are trained in both fire and ambulance calls, captains Mike Maak and Jonathan Higgins told the board on Monday.

“We’re running bare bones,” Higgins told the board.

The increase in calls also results in higher-than budgeted revenue for the department. Maak and Higgins said that revenue should be used to help add more personnel, which would reduce overtime costs, and could lead to more calls and faster response times.

“The calls are increasing and I don’t see that changing,” Maak told the Village Board.

As of Monday, Medina FD responded to 1,535 calls in 2014, which was up from 1,420 a year ago at the same time, Maak said.

When Medina voted to start the full-time ambulance service in 2007, fire department leaders anticipated anywhere from 1,500 to 1,700 calls for the entire year. The department exceeded that, pushing 1,800 to 1,900 calls in its first year.

In 2012, the Medina FD handled 2,209 ambulance calls and 311 fire calls for 2,520 total, the most ever for the department – until 2013 when it responded to 2,755 calls.

Village Board members want to add staffing for the department to help with the workload, but they aren’t convinced full-time staff is the best choice. Mayor Andrew Meier said the call volumes could drop, and so could the revenue. He doesn’t want village taxpayers to see a jolt in their taxes to help pay for more full-time staff.

He would like the FD to supplement the full-time staff with part-time emergency medical technicians. The EMTs would have regularly scheduled shifts. They wouldn’t respond to fire calls.

“I want as much extra help as you need,” Meier said. “We just need a cost-effective plan.”

Higgins and Maak said it would be difficult to find reliable part-time EMTs. The firefighters’ contract also gives the full-time personnel the first choice for any overtime before the village would turn to part-time staff, Higgins said.

An additional full-time firefighter would cost the village $45,000 to $71,000 a year for salary and benefits. Fire Chief Todd Zinkievich submitted a written report, saying an additional firefighter would reduce overtime by $7,000 to $15,000. Two additional firefighters from the current staff of 13 could cut overtime by $25,000, he said.

The department’s call volume is resulting in revenues that are on pace to exceed the 2014 budget by about $100,000, Higgins and Maak said. The department’s budget could accommodate the added staff without an increase in taxes to the village, they said.

“This would be a wash,” Higgins said.

Meier, however, wants more assurances for the long-term. The board will continue to look at the issue and see if the firefighter contract can accommodate regularly scheduled EMTs.

The department is the primary responder for ambulance calls in western Orleans, and also goes to many calls in Albion and Niagara County. Maak said the village should approach the towns of Shelby, Ridgeway and Yates about a contribution for the ambulance service, perhaps $10,000 a year from each town. That would help with the staffing, and help ensure there are enough personnel for calls in western Orleans and also for the many hospital transfers.

Maak said Medina firefighters often have an ambulance tied up for about two hours while they transfer patients from Medina Memorial Hospital to sites in Buffalo and Rochester.

The Fire Department has been asking for added staff for the past three years. When the ambulance service started in 2007, a consultant forecast $600,000 in revenue from the service. The village has budgeted $1 million in revenue for 2014-15, but is on pace to reach $1.1 million.

Higgins was clearly frustrated at Monday’s meeting, saying the 13 firefighters are exceeding expectations.

“You told us before to come up with money and we did,” Higgins said.