Struthers Fire Department sees increase in calls, maintains slim department
By Graig Graziosi
The Struthers Fire Department responded to 862 calls in 2017. The department already has responded to 493 this year, and Struthers Fire Chief William Simcox doesn’t anticipate the pace of calls will slow.
“Our calls have been increasing every year,” he said.
Though most of the calls are medical emergencies — likely a result of the city’s aging adults, as 17 percent of the city’s population is 65 or older, according to the most recent census data — they keep the firefighters busy.
Simcox said the department staffs the smaller fire station on the city’s North Side with one firefighter and the main station with two. When an emergency happens, the firefighters on duty respond and call for backup from on-call volunteers if necessary.
Though this system allows the city to keep firefighter labor costs down, it also means firefighters may arrive to emergencies alone if part-timers aren’t available.
Despite the possibility of working alone and the increasing volume of calls, the Struthers Fire Department has operated with eight full-time firefighters and a team – usually between 14 and 17– of on-call part-timers since 2008.
Mayor Terry Stocker said that maintaining a force of eight full-time firefighters has been the city’s standard since it downsized the department from nine to eight in response to the recession.
Former Fire Chief Gary Mudryk conducted a survey of the department and also determined that eight was an acceptable number of firefighters for a city of Struthers’ size.
The city’s ordinances allow for the administration to hire up to 30 firefighters, but Stocker said that number doesn’t take the city’s shifting demographics into account. The current city population estimate is 10,254.
“The city’s population has declined, so we don’t need to keep a force of that size, and we haven’t for decades,” Stocker said.
The department’s 2018 budget is $1,007,204.92. Starting firefighters make $39,295 and top out at $44,246. Under their current contract, the firefighters will receive a 1 percent raise in 2018 and 2019.
In 2012, the Struthers Firemen’s Association sent a letter to then-chief Mudryk that said trying to fight fires with its manpower was “exhausting” and “dangerous.” At the time, the department had eight full-time firefighters and 14 part-timers. Today, the department has the same number of full-timers and 17 part-timers.
Simcox said the slim force can be a double-edged sword for the department.
“On one hand it’s a point of pride for the engineers, that they can run and do the work the way we do,” Simcox said. “On the other hand, its tough if you end up in a situation where you’re the only one available to help. But if there’s ever a serious emergency and for some reason an engineer ended up alone, we have mutual-aid agreements with every department in the area.”
Simcox said that despite its numbers, his department had fewer injuries than would be expected based on the volume of calls it receives.
The city administration decides when to hire new firefighters. Stocker will be swearing in a replacement for a departing firefighter Tuesday to maintain the department’s eight full-timers, and Simcox said he is currently processing the applications of an additional three part-timers.
“If Chief Simcox came to me and showed me we were getting overwhelmed with calls then I’d of course want to bring on an additional firefighter,” Stocker said. “But for now we’ll maintain our force at eight as long as that’s viable for the city.”