By jeanne starmack
City administrators and council members are discussing ways to resolve a manpower shortage in the fire department.
The five-member full-time department is short one person now because a firefighter is on an extended sick leave, administrators said.
Another firefighter, Capt. David Horvath, is expected to retire in May.
At a council meeting earlier this week, Councilman Bryan Tedesco said city officials, including the fire chief, met Dec. 12 to discuss the manpower issue.
“We’re going to set up more meetings with the fire department and figure out how to staff it,” he said.
At a meeting earlier this month, council President George Levendis said he is concerned about the department’s overtime costs.
The department has 14 auxiliary firefighters who are paid minimum wage per call.
City officials have said, however, the department’s union contract requires giving full-time staff overtime before calling out volunteers.
Levendis said this week, however, that “known overtime,” which would be accrued because someone is off sick, could possibly be managed using the auxiliary firefighters.
City Administrator Jack Dill said the city has contacted the law firm that handles its labor relations for advice on whether that is true.
A state-mandated financial recovery plan, which the city has because it is in fiscal emergency, calls for the fire department to convert to an all-volunteer one as its full-time staff retires.
Mayor Bill VanSuch said this week he believes it is too early to speculate on whether that will occur.
He said that right now, the city still has a full-time department with one person off sick.
Fire Chief Nick Herlec has said he does not believe the city should convert its fire department to volunteers.
“The first thing you lose is your response time,” he told The Vindicator. “I think they should keep what they have. We’re coming out of fiscal emergency.”
The city has been in fiscal emergency, and state oversight, since 2004.
It plans to ask for release from it in January.