LORAIN — City Council took note of the fire department’s staffing concerns during its regular meeting Monday.
Following a note the Lorain Professional Firefighters Local 267 posted on its Facebook page Friday, Council members plan to discuss the problem.
In the note, the union stated since 2001 it has gone from more than 90 members to 66 in the department, dropping some of its trucks to less-than-ideal staffing numbers and at times increasing the danger its firefighters encounter on fire scenes.
Josh Thornsberry, D-Ward 8, said Council needed to talk about the fire levy and what is being funded out of it versus the general fund.
A five-year fire levy was passed in 2016 to fend off layoffs and secure revenue for the department — after 22 firefighters were laid off that July. They returned to work about a week and a half later, following a $3.1 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and emergency Response grant for two years.
The levy, meant in part to pick up the slack after the SAFER grant ran out, brings in about $1.4 million a year. Some of its carryover funds are slated for use in the new fire station costs.
Mary Springowksi, D-at large, said she had been contacted by firefighters with safety concerns.
“We need to discuss this,” she said. “I believe staffing levels may be at very dangerously low levels and just as we are supporting the police, we need to have a serious discussion about the fire department.”
Greg Argenti, I-Ward 4, is chairman of the city’s Police/Fire and Legislative Committee, and said he plans to call a meeting “in the very near future” to discuss the department’s concerns.
Ahead of Monday’s Council meeting, firefighter and union secretary Jon Stephanchick said the note was a letter from the local’s safety committee explaining its concerns as their levels continue to drop.
“Since then, we are opening a dialogue with the city administration and we hope to come to common ground as it pertains to safety for the community and safety for ourselves as we perform our job in the line of duty.”
He noted when the fire levy was passed, the department was at 71 members, and that was felt to be the bare-bones crew it could operate on safely — but their numbers dropped by six in only three years. Hired in 2011, Stephanchick said even then he was No. 84 in the department.
“It is a safety issue,” he said. “Numbers, all that, everything’s negotiable, it’s just that we want to sit down and actually talk with the administration and have them see our concerns as real things. You could sit there and try to explain things to people all day, but if they don’t have any actual knowledge of what you’re talking about they’re not going to grasp the message you’re trying to convey.”
Safety/Service Director Dan Given said the administration always is open to communication with the city’s different unions.
“The representatives from the union reached out to us (Monday),” he said. “We said we would definitely open consideration for all topics, however we’re not going to do it on social media.”
As far as Council’s committee meeting goes, Given said members could ask questions on how the department is being managed, the budget, or clarification on certain decisions that have been made, but City Council does not direct how the department is run.
The administration also opted to postpone Council’s approval for the new west side fire station contract. Given said the city needed more time to finish splitting parcels and surveying previously owned by Mercy Health Medical System. He said the engineer’s office expects that to take about two weeks, and from there the hospital will need to file the correct paperwork before the city can enter into a contract with a design-build firm for the new station.
“This is just a temporary glitch in the process,” he said.
The new westside station, which will replace Station No. 7, will be at West Erie Avenue and Kolbe Road. The city is looking to move some of its departments from its current, decrepit Central Service Complex to Station No. 7. A new service complex will be built on West Park Drive.