By Ashley Luthern
Although township trustees approved a second and final reading of an additional police levy, much of the discussion at Monday’s meeting was about the fire department.
The board unanimously approved the resolution for a 3.85-mill, five-year additional police levy on the Aug. 2 ballot. The measure now will be sent to the Mahoning County Board of Elections for certification.
If approved by voters, the levy is expected to generate about $3.6 million annually designated for the police department, costing the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an estimated $117 annually.
Many residents who attended the trustees meeting expressed concern about fire department staffing levels.
The township administration recently activated a clause in its contract with the International Association of Firefighters Local 1176 that allows minimum staffing levels to decrease. The clause is connected to using overtime to meet the minimum staffing level, which was nine per shift.
Interim Chief Tim Drummond said that currently the three shifts are nine, 10 and nine firefighters. However, using that clause, the township will not call out and pay firefighters overtime to maintain nine firefighters per shift, changing the bare-minimum staffing level to six firefighters per shift.
Fred Hoover, who was a Boardman volunteer firefighter for 20 years, said the staffing change is unsafe.
“... You continue to threaten the jobs and lives of your firefighters by reducing manning to levels you wish to afford,” he said.
He also said he is worried that full-time firefighters will be replaced by volunteers.
“I would suggest before you implement your renewed threat to jobs that you examine response times in those areas that still rely on volunteer firefighters,” said Hoover, whose son, Jim Hoover, is a Boardman firefighter.
“As minutes tick by after an alarm is transmitted, check your watches or the walls of your home. You may be the one needing help that wasn’t as available as it was years ago,” Fred Hoover said.
The trustees had directed Administrator Jason Loree to research the possibility of bringing volunteers back to the department.
Another resident, Ed DeRose, pointed out that firefighters handle a larger volume of medical calls compared to fire calls.
Drummond spoke about what he described as the “continuous barrage” of criticism that the department responds only to a small number of structure fires.
“The reason that you pay for a professional firefighter, a professional fire department, is so that when you do have a minor fire in your bedroom or in your bathroom or in your kitchen or in your basement, that there’s a response of about four minutes and the firefighters are there, ready to go to work,” Drummond said.
He clarified that this was his opinion and that as interim chief, he is still an active member of the IAFF.
Drummond said that if staffing levels reach the new minimum of six — two firefighters in each of the three township fire stations — then the department will have to call mutual aid from other communities for some incidents.
“We’re not going in the right direction with staffing levels like this,” he said.
Trustee Larry Moliterno said these decisions are not easy to make but are necessitated by the township’s finances. The fire department’s budget is $4.4 million out of the township’s total $17 million appropriations for 2011; about half of the department’s $100,000 appropriation for overtime was used in the first three months.
“We are looking for ways to get out of this, and there are not any good ways. There’s no way we can get out of this without people getting hurt, and I hate that,” Moliterno said.
“... But we have an obligation to look at models of operation of other communities — in fire, road and police — that are effective to find out what we can do best for the 40,000 people we have in this township,” he added.