Reduction In Fire Staffing Leads To Reduction In Overtime

NEWARK — The Newark Division of Fire began the year with a new three-year contract and without the minimum staffing mandate to have 19 firefighters on duty at all times.

The change has contributed to a dramatic reduction in overtime costs, at less than a third of 2011. Through 16 pay periods, overtime cost the city $10,000 less per pay and $157,144 less for the year.

David McElfresh, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 109, fought to keep the minimum manning in 2011, but a conciliator ruled against the union.
The department’s overtime costs were $228,173 on July 23, 2011, finishing the year with $369,816 in overtime. Through July 21 of this year, overtime expenses were $71,029.

In fact, the city spent less during the first seven months of the year than it did in a two-month period a year ago, when overtime costs totaled $87,237 from June 12 to Aug. 6.

The changes have helped the city stay within its budget, which the mayor said is critical with more state budget cuts on the horizon.

“When I look at the numbers, I have to say things are working,” Mayor Jeff Hall said. “I give big kudos to that department.

“Other cities have had to do drastic reductions, in layoffs or stations. That’s what happens in cities when they don’t address it.”

Hall said he hopes the city can end the year with less than $100,000 in overtime costs, a far cry from 2007, when overtime was more than $850,000.

“With decreased daily shift staffing, it is certainly a challenge to continue to meet the increasing needs of our customers,” McElfresh wrote in an email response on the overtime reduction.

“Our members are working harder with less staffing and fewer resources to continue to provide the best professional fire and EMS service to our citizens, that they deserve and expect.”

The savings in overtime costs has been tempered by an increase in salary expenses, which are $112,875 more this year than 2011, through July 31.

The 84-member fire department has six lieutenants and eight captains serving under four assistant chiefs and Fire Chief Jack Stickradt. The department also includes a fire marshal/arson investigator, three fire prevention inspectors and 62 firefighters or firefighter/paramedics.

Three firefighters have been hired this year, another is scheduled to be hired Aug. 20, and one resigned, the chief said.

“The Newark Fire Department is dedicated to provide the highest quality of service to our customers, community and surrounding areas,” Stickradt stated in an email.

“Declining funding allotments require that our agency seek out creative alternatives to conventional means so we can continue providing the service levels our customers deserve and expect.”

The chief said the department has not dropped to fewer than 16 firefighters on duty citywide, excluding time for processing a recall to replace on-duty call-offs.

The city pays overtime when absences or other contractually-approved time off would reduce manpower to fewer than 16 firefighters. The average, however, has been about 20 on duty each shift, Stickradt wrote.

“Response times to incidents have remained essentially the same since implementing the contractual changes eliminating the minimum staffing requirement,” the chief said.

McElfresh said reduced staffing slowed response to a December downtown house fire, when minimum manning had been removed, but the chief rejected that claim.

Councilman Marc Guthrie, D-at-large, chairman of the Safety Committee, said, “As long as we can save money on overtime without compromising public safety, that’s a positive thing.”

Earlier this month, a Dayton firefighters’ union blamed budget cuts for a slower response to a destructive blaze at an apartment complex.

“Certainly we hope when the economy picks up and local government funding is restored, we can reinstate the much needed staffing and resources so we can better serve the citizens and keep our members safe,” McElfresh wrote.

From The Newark Advocate