Fire officials, trustees plan meeting on staffing issues

LIBERTY — Township trustees and fire department officials are planning a labor-management meeting.

After several residents approached the board of trustees with questions and comments on staffing Liberty’s fire department, leaders explained Tuesday that both sides must communicate to clear the confusion.

“Absolutely, they have to send a letter,” Trustee Greg Cizmar said about the plans for a meeting. “We’ve talked, and they have to send a letter for labor-management. And then we’ll sit down and have a meeting for labor-management. That’s all they had to do a month ago.”

Ronnie Simone, president of Liberty Professional Firefighters Association Local 2075, said such a letter “works both ways.”

“Both sides can send a request for a labor-management meeting,” Simone said. “We are going to send one this week, in hopes of fixing our staffing issue.”

For several weeks, Station 34 has been closed because of minimum staffing. While the station has closed numerous times in the past, the union also stated that it did not publicize previous closures “in effort to remain friendly with the Liberty Township trustees in hopes to work toward increasing staffing.”

“I think that we need to communicate with them directly,” said trustee Arnold Clebone. “A union- management meeting is a good idea. And I think we should pursue having it as soon as possible, so we can get to finding out what their needs are. And they have to see what our thinking is.”

Clebone maintained that the township is concerned about safety for the community, and that keeping residents safe must be done “within the financial means available.”

“They have some concerns, and obviously we have concerns,” Clebone said.

He continued, “So, we’ll have to do our best in working with them. But doing it on Facebook and making comments back and forth isn’t going to work. I think we need to be talking, and I feel we’ve made efforts to do things. We’ve made offers and we’ve had some discussions, but obviously we need to do a better job, and I think we can.”

Both stations receive mutual aid from other local departments.

Fire Chief Doug Theobald said after a March 11 trustees meeting said insufficient staffing has led to closing of the Belmont Avenue station.

“Firefighters by contract are permitted to take time off,” Theobald said.

Theobald said Liberty does have backup from the Girard Fire Department.

Trustee Devon Stanley said each shift tries to have three to five firefighters, with three at one station and two at the other. He said contractually, the minimum staffing is three firefighters and with only three, only one station can be open.

Stanley said the township aims to have the Belmont Avenue station open to be able to assist the Vienna Fire Department when they need help because of staffing shortages there caused by financial woes and subsequent layoffs.

As for the Facebook page, Simone said the reason the department has not silenced itself is that residents have a right to know the status of its fire department.

“The residents have a right to know when the station is closed,” Simone said. “Not only for safety purposes, but I think that’s the right of taxpayers. What are they spending their money on? Inadequate fire safety is a huge issue. It happens.”

“We have one ambulance on duty,” Simone said. “But we’re getting called at the same exact time for one, two, three ambulance calls. And those people are waiting for mutual aid from Vienna, Hubbard, Girard, and that’s an extended wait time for them. And they’re getting a bill for this service, which I also think is unfair to the residents.”

Bills to those who receive mutual aid are higher than bills given after one department provides service, “thousands,” Simone said. “We soft bill, so whatever is not paid by your insurance is written off, pretty much. So they pay for that service through their taxes, when we call Vienna. They’re billing them whatever they charge.”

“I don’t think the station being closed is that unusual,” Clebone suggested. “It has been closed, and as far as I know we’ve still been able to serve the residents. It’s ideal if it can stay open all of the time, but by not being open, the danger has been exaggerated. If we had unlimited resources, we’d probably never have it closed. We have to work with what we have.”

Clebone said both groups will be addressing the staffing in the coming days.

The union president included that staffing both stations with five is something that the trustees could do “today.”

“Right now, they could make that decision. All they would have to do is say ‘we’re filling the overtime.’ I have guys going to work and staffing those stations every day. It’s a monetary issue, and we feel that safety is more important than money,” Simone said.


Resident Harvey Schiller questioned the trustees’ decision to spend money outside of the fire department.

“With the state of our fire departments, when the engines aren’t even running, how can you justify spending $10,000 to fix the exterior of a building, and $27,000 to fix the salt dome?” Schiller asked. “I’m sure it’s leaking, but what’s more important? Fire safety, or a leaking roof?”

Cizmar responded to Schiller, “The fire trucks are getting fixed.”

Schiller then further spoke about the closing of stations. Stanley described Schiller’s comments about budget spending as “false premise.” Emergency services funding is not connected to the spending Schiller mentioned, as later explained by Simone.

“If not a waste of money if it’s done at the appropriate time,” Schiller added before the argument faded.

Township administrator Martha Weirick explained, “The Ohio Revised Code doesn’t allow for money for the fire department to be moved to the police, road, and vise versa. The only other place it can come out of is the general fund.”

William Adams, another resident, asked what could be done to make sure that all fire hydrants will continue to function properly.

Cizmar told him that fire hydrants will be checked this month.

Four more residents approached the podium to speak with trustees about the fire department, while referencing better pay elsewhere, management and miscommunication.


Both parties also agreed that there is a staffing issue throughout the United States for police and fire departments, as well as emergency medical services.

Specifically in Liberty, however, Simone and the union’s Facebook page previously explained that trustees decided to no longer staff a fifth firefighter on overtime after a trustees’ executive session in March.

Trustee Devon Stanley said last month that he believes that based on the amount of overtime Liberty Fire Department has paid the last few years, the township is spending approximately $28 per hour, 24 hours per day, every day, which he said is not sustainable.

Simone added, “I understand their position, the money that they were talking about yesterday was for a different department.” He continued, “But as far as severity for us, I feel like this is as dangerous as it gets. We had three people on duty yesterday (Monday), and we had a structure fire during the meeting. Luckily we had a lot of people in attendance who could go out and help, but if those guys weren’t there, there would have been three of us.”

Simone said sometimes “we have to make sacrifices and figure this out.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Daniel Newman by email at dnewman@tribtoday.com


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