By Rick Rouan
Boardman trustees have outlined staffing requirements for the main station and two satellite stations.
BOARDMAN — Township trustees have put it in writing: It’s their goal to ensure that “all fire stations of Boardman Township remain open and staffed.”
In a written statement Wednesday, trustees outlined staffing requirements for the main fire station and two satellite stations.
Trustees Larry Moliterno, Thomas Costello and Brad Calhoun have not returned calls seeking comment.
The South Avenue and Shields Road at Lockwood Boulevard satellite stations, which were closed on a rotating basis based on the number of firefighters on duty, will remain open as long as a minimum of eight firefighters are on duty, according to the statement. The main fire station on Boardman-Poland Road will be staffed with four to five firefighters, and the outlying stations will be staffed with two to three firefighters.
In the past, fire Chief James Dorman closed outlying stations that he could not staff with at least three firefighters.
The fire department has 32 firefighters divided among three shifts — two shifts of 11 firefighters and one shift of 10. At any given time, though, that number could fall to eight because of vacation or illness, said Harry Wolfe, president of the International Association of Professional Firefighters Local 1176, which represents Boardman’s firefighters.
When that happens, two firefighters would be assigned to a truck, creating an “unsafe” situation that puts firefighters at risk, Wolfe said.
“A firefighter is going to go into that house- fire and do the best they can,” he said. ”He puts himself at a risk that he should not be at.”
Having at least eight firefighters on duty is stipulated in the firefighters’ union contract, said Jason Loree, township administrator.
“What the trustees did was just follow the contract language,” Loree said. “As long as it’s eight, the trustees are within the contract.”
But Wolfe said that past practice should trump that standard. The fire chief, Wolfe said, determined that two firefighters to a truck is too few, but trustees are now ignoring the chief’s assessment.
“They’re trying to fulfill political agenda,” Wolfe said. “They’re actually taking the fire chief out of the equation. The fire chief says ‘no we do it this way,’ and they ordered him to do this.”
National standards call for four firefighters on a truck, Wolfe said.
Because of that national standard, Loree said that even trucks manned with three firefighters need to wait for a second truck to arrive before going into a fire.
But reducing a truck from two to three firefighters also reduces the efficiency of the truck, Wolfe said.
The trustees also have mandated that overtime not be used to exceed the eight firefighter minimum, according to a memo dated Jan. 4 from Loree to Dorman.
The department budgeted for $180,000 in overtime in 2009, but it spent more than $260,000 as of mid-December, Dorman has said, attributing the overpspending to losing two firefighters and having others on extended injury-leave.
Still, Loree said the trustees are committed to doing whatever they can afford to do to increase fire department staffing.
“If the revenues are coming in at a level where we can’t do it all, we’re going to try to find what we can do to the best of our abilities,” he said.
Loree said that the township wants “to work with the unions.” Asked if that meant concessions, Loree said “it could be concesssions, restructuring, anything.”
But Wolfe said there is a rift between the firefighters and the trustees, two of whom were elected in November.
In their statement, the trustees wrote: “It is also the goal of the Board of Trustees to work with the Fire Fighters’ Union and find ways to increase staffing coverage at the fire stations and improve fire protection in Boardman Township.”
But Wolfe said that the statement sounds like “empty promises.”
Trustees, Wolfe said, promised three weeks ago to meet with firefighters, but the union was not consulted on the decision to completely reopen both satellite stations.
“They lied to us. And we’re only five days into their administration,” Wolfe said.
But Loree said that the slight was not intentional.
“The trustees did not have any intentions of not communicating with the union on changing the fire department,” he said. “This was something that’s in their contract that they’re going to follow.”