Struthers seeks solutions to shortage of firefighters
By Jeanne Starmack
City administrators are being asked to solve a manpower shortage in the fire department.
In a letter to Struthers Fire Chief Gary Mudryk, the Struthers Firemen’s Association said that trying to fight fires without enough manpower is “exhausting” and “dangerous.”
The letter was also sent to Mayor Terry Stocker, Safety-Service Director Ed Wildes and all city council members.
The letter points out that the department lost two veterans, Chief Harold Milligan and firefighter Dick Dale, over the last two years.
“They were replaced with equally as valuable members with you getting appointed to chief and one of our volunteers getting appointed to [firefighter],” the letter says.
“However, we have also seen much loss in manpower over the past couple of years,” it continues. “In addition to many of the veteran volunteers hanging up their helmets for good, several other volunteers have moved out of the area and are no longer able to assist our department.”
The letter, which is signed by association President Robert Ditman, Vice President Tom Monus and Secretary-Treasurer Walter Baber, points out that there are 23 firefighters in the department, including the chief, eight full-timers and 14 volunteers. The city allows up to 30 volunteers.
“Our numbers for active members are the lowest they have been in many years and, without the addition of new and younger members, our volunteer force is aging,” the association says. “Our last structure fire had eight people on scene, three of which were on duty and in recent fires we have had as little as three people on scene.”
Mudryk, who became chief in June 2011, told The Vindicator on Wednesday he has the authority to hire volunteers.
“But right now I don’t have the training budget to hire them,” he said.
“When I came on in June 2011, we were down 11 volunteers and have since lost four more.”
He said he needs money to send volunteers to training and to provide them with properly fitting turnout gear. Not all turnout gear can be reused if it doesn’t fit someone, he said.
Struthers Auditor Tina Morell said that Mudryk asked for money in last year’s budget to hire 10 volunteers and was given an increase from $5,000 to $12,500 for gear for six.
“And he hasn’t hired anyone,” she said.
The budget for training remained unchanged from 2011 to 2012. It is $13,000.
Mudryk said that $13,000 provided for training is also for full-time firefighters, and he incurred additional training expenses for himself. He had to train to become a fire safety inspector, which was Milligan’s role, he said.
Also, $3,800 of that amount was used for bonuses for full-timers, and $7,200 was used for full-timers to take minimum standard performance tests, he said. He noted that they received that money in lieu of raises in their last contract, he said.
“They did up the gear, but that wasn’t just for new volunteers,” he said.
He said the department had to replace and upgrade gear for current staff.