Boardman fire chief ordered to reopen 2 stations

By Rick Rouan

Union officials say the department does not have enough firefighters to safely staff all three stations.

BOARDMAN — Today marks the reopening of two satellite fire stations that the township closed in September because of money woes.

Township trustees on Tuesday ordered that the fire department reopen the South Avenue and Shields Road at Lockwood Boulevard stations, which were closed on a rotating basis. But union officials are not convinced that the department has enough firefighters to safely staff all three stations.

The department has 32 firefighters working two 11-man shifts and one 10-man shift, Fire Chief James Dorman said. When all firefighters are available for their shift, each satellite station has three firefighters, and the remainder work at the main station.

To keep all three stations open required all 10 firefighters on duty, Dorman has said. Now, however, trustees ordered that only the contractual minimum of eight be on duty to keep all three stations open.

With only eight firefighters on duty, the two satellite stations would be reduced to two firefighters on duty, Dorman said.

“My choice had been to staff a truck with three firefighters, and the trustees have directed me to staff it with two firefighters,” Dorman said.

Having only two men on duty at a satellite station is a safety hazard for firefighters, said Harry Wolfe, president of the International Association of Professional Firefighters Local 1176, which represents Boardman’s firefighters.

“It’s unsafe. Two men can’t fight a fire,” Wolfe said. “You wouldn’t run any business inefficiently. Running a two-man truck is inefficient.”

Nationally accepted standards dictate that at least four firefighters man each truck, Dorman said.

In the past, the department would use overtime to keep 10 firefighters on each shift. But the trustees ordered that overtime not be used to exceed the eight-firefighter minimum from now on, according to a memo dated Jan. 4 to Dorman from Jason Loree, township administrator.

Last year, the department budgeted for $180,000 in overtime, Dorman said, but by mid-December it had spent more than $260,000.

Dorman attributed the increased overtime spending to the department’s losing two firefighters, one who died of a heart attack and another who left for another job; and extended injury leave for two others.

The department also has three firefighters laid off, Dorman said.

One of those firefighters implored trustees at a meeting Monday night to bring back to work himself and two others.

“I would love to be back on board here,” said Mark Pitzer, a laid-off firefighter.

The township faces tough decisions as it spends the next several weeks finalizing its 2010 budget.

Monday night, William Leicht, the township’s fiscal officer, said that the township needs to control costs, including overtime expenditures.

“We can’t just arbitrarily spend overtime dollars,” he said.

Township trustees did not return calls seeking comment late Tuesday.

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