COLUMBIANA COUNTY Fire district task force to be selected
Interviews are open, but no public comment is allowed.
SALEM -- Three fire district task force members will be chosen from nine applicants after two rounds of interviews conducted by Councilman Greg Oesch and Perry Township Trustee Cliff Mix.
The task force must then decide if combining the Salem and Perry Township fire districts would be feasible.
Six of the applicants -- Dennis M. Perry, Frank A. Zamarelli, John F. Reid, Samuel A. McKinney, Jeffrey L. Hughes and Jimmie Lee Smith -- live in Salem. Three -- Jason Jullian, Phillip Suarez and Stephanie Ritchie -- live in Perry Township.
Of the three open positions, one will be filled by a Salem resident, one by a Perry Township resident and the other by an at-large choice at the discretion of Oesch and Mix, who are the Salem and Perry Township representatives on the panel.
Oesch said new task force members should be announced Monday.
Please refrain from booing
He said the interviews will be conducted in an open forum at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. inside Salem City Council chambers.
"We will not tolerate any booing or hissing from the audience," Oesch said. "The public can be there, but we are not taking input from the audience.
"We're going to explain [to the applicants] what this is going to be involving and whether they're going to be able to commit enough time to it."
Oesch said neither firefighters nor their spouses will be considered.
"The only people they will pick are the people with the same ideas as them," Salem Fire Chief Walt Greenamyer said. "They don't want any opposing opinions."
The task force is meant to act as an exploratory committee to determine if a joint fire district is feasible for the community. The council expects answers from the task force no later than March 15.
If one fire district is created, council has pledged not to annex a northwest portion of Perry Township for at least 12 years.
Aim is saving money
The idea of combining Salem and Perry Township departments into one district is being prompted by funding concerns, Oesch said.
"This is not a situation of people not doing their jobs. We have got to cut expenses," he said.
Salem would save $600,000 annually if the district becomes reality, he said.
But Greenamyer feels safety is more important.
"There are other fire districts, but they were never created to save money," he said. "They were developed to enhance response times."
Greenamyer said Salem firefighters can be anywhere in Salem within four minutes.
Oesch said public safety will not be affected.
"We're going to still be manning the station 24/7," he said.
Mike Burns, president of Salem firefighters union, said the city should keep what is already considered a "trained" firefighting force.
"Salem has light industry, heavy industry, a hospital with 300 to 400 beds, several nursing homes and a high-rise facility for the elderly," he said. "You need one [fire department] that can respond to a variety of threats we face every day. You need full-time, trained people.
"Motivation behind the fire district is critical. Our city council's motivation is to save money, not to enhance public safety. To get savings, you sacrifice capabilities."
More than meets the eye?
Burns suggested an ulterior motive.
"A few months ago, I made the comment that this was union busting," he said. "Our last three contracts have gone into fact-finding and arbitration. We can't strike. It's against state law. We've gone through arbitration, but we've won every time. I think the city is tired of losing. I think they're saying, 'If we can't beat them, let's get rid of them.'"
If the solo district becomes reality, all current full-time firefighters would lose their jobs, but would be encouraged to apply to the new district.
"Some people have become physically ill over this," Burns said of his co-workers. "Stress, anxiety can make you physically ill. One of our guys got married, had a baby and bought a house. Now he's told he may have to start over again?"