ENGLEWOOD — City council on Tuesday discussed the need to add 17 full-time firefighter positions due to staff shortages. The term “firefighter” applies to an actual firefighter, a paramedic or an emergency medical technician (EMT).
Currently the department has only 10 full-time firefighters and at times only one of the two city fire stations can be staffed resulting in service ‘brown outs.’
Many communities in the Miami Valley are facing similar issues. The increase in job openings is due in part to the number of firefighters reaching retirement age.
A large number of firefighters were hired in the 1980s when fire departments were transitioning from all-volunteer staffs to paid staffs. The recent large turnover rate is something many communities haven’t experienced in years and it is affecting the hiring pool, largely due to fire academy enrollment dropping off in recent years.
A study released in 2019 by the National Fire Protection Association found the number of volunteer and part-time firefighters was at its lowest level since the agency started releasing the reports in the 1980s.
“The Englewood Fire Department is not immune to brown outs, staff shortages, just like a great number of other jurisdictions in Montgomery County,” said City Manager Eric Smith. “The chief and I are recommending an improvement in the staffing so that a number of part-time positions would become full-time.”
The reason for the move, Smith explained, was that the city can’t find people willing to work part-time to fill all of the positions necessary to staff two stations.
Some members of council expressed concerns over the number of positions being recommended for full-time status due to the strain it will place on the city budget. Voters recently approved a 2 mil fire levy, but as Smith observed the amount requested was in retrospect not adequate to address staffing needs.
Smith suggested that due to council concerns that council approve the addition of six to eight full-time positions, pulling from the available pool of part-time personnel already employed with the fire department.
“The immediate urgency is that we cannot fill positions to occupy both stations,” Smith noted. “Sometimes one of the stations is not open due to staffing issues.”
Promoting part-time personnel to full-time creates a shortage of part-time personnel because there is a nationwide shortage of people willing to work part-time. The reason behind that is due to the amount of training required to become certified as a firefighter, an EMT or paramedic. Training is ongoing and requires attending classes on an annual basis.
Smith pointed out that due to that fact, West Carrollton will be seeking the approval of a 4 mil levy in March so it can hire enough full-time people to staff two fire stations.
“There has been a great deal of discussion about the number of positions that we are recommending,” Smith. “Based on correspondence from council, my understanding is that some council members are not comfortable with approving full staffing this evening. They want to discuss it further. What I would recommend is that at least we kickoff the number of full-time positions so that we can staff both stations because we are in somewhat of an urgent situation. We can then go back and have a workshop session and discuss the remaining positions.”
Of the available part-time personnel currently working 25 hours per week plus overtime, there are nine that would likely be hired full-time according to Fire Chief Anthony Terrace. Of those nine, seven of those nine interested in full-time employment are EMTs.
“The problem is almost two-fold,” Terrace said. “If we were to hire all EMTs we are going to have paramedic overtime still being substantial. The paramedic overtime is going to be reduced when we hire additional paramedics. Those EMT spots are the spots, for instance, where based on wages, a part-time EMT working the same amount of hours as they would full-time would actually be getting paid more part-time because the Fair Standards Labor Act overtime kicks in at 40 hours, otherwise its 53 hours for full-time.”
Terrace noted that a part-time employee recently had more overtime hours on their paycheck than regular hours worked because they worked more than double the allotted hours.
“During that pay period we still experienced closure of one of our stations for a number of hours,” Terrace stated.
Mayor Tom Frantz said that if the city doesn’t act quickly to promote the part-time positions they could leave to fill full-time positions other cities are seeking to fill.
Terrace confirmed that fact noting that Troy posted that it has four openings for full-time positions with zero applicants.
“Washington Township and Beavercreek are continuing to hire aggressively and the pool is dwindling,” Terrace said.
Hiring eight or nine full-time would be a start Terrace noted. The fire department could then focus on hiring additional personnel at a later date.
Council amended an ordinance to allow the fire department to hire nine additional firefighters (which could be either paramedics or EMTs).
To bring the department up to full staff level the city would have to transfer money from its general fund to help pay for those positions. The 2 mil levy does not generate enough to cover those expenses.
The city would have to revisit ways to generate enough funding to support staffing needs. That matter will be discussed during a council workshop session at a later date.