Fire department cuts back on OT

By Michelle Dupler
Staff Writer

On April 28, the Franklin Township Fire Department put a new overtime policy into effect that’s designed to save the department money as it faces a mounting budget shortfall.

For residents, that may mean fewer township firefighter/paramedics available to respond to emergency calls — and more calls answered by neighboring jurisdictions such as Columbus.

The new policy was announced at the April 24 township board meeting, and sets a cap of one fire department staffer who can earn overtime in any given shift.

Fire Chief Rick Howard said that with three firefighters currently on long-term medical leave, and the summer vacation season on the horizon, there may be times when fire department staffing falls below the recommended 12 people between the township’s two fire stations.

Each station typically has one fire engine and one ambulance or medic unit in service at a given time. The preferred crew for a fire engine is four people. Three is the bare minimum. An ambulance requires two people to run.

The two stations can function with five people each instead of six to have the minimum staffing for an engine and a medic unit, but with fewer than five a medic unit would have to be taken out of service and not be available for emergency calls, Howard said.

Franklin Township has aid agreements with other jurisdictions that mean when an emergency call comes in, the nearest fire engine or medic unit is dispatched. Residents already may get a response from Columbus or a neighboring township if one of those units is the closest, or if Franklin Township emergency personnel already are occupied.

If a Franklin Township ambulance is taken out of service, a fire engine can be sent, Howard said. All of the township’s firefighters also are trained as paramedics, and can offer the same treatment at the scene of an accident, injury or medical emergency as an ambulance. The difference is that a fire engine can’t transport a patient to the hospital, and Franklin Township firefighters would have to call for aid if someone needed a transport.

Howard said it made more sense to keep a fire engine in service than an ambulance when the township is understaffed because a fire engine can respond to either a fire or a medical emergency, but an ambulance can only respond to a medical call.

“By keeping the engine in service it maintains that dual role,” Howard said.

If staffing drops below what’s needed to man a fire engine at a given station, that station would be taken out of service temporarily, Howard said.

“What this is all tied to is finances,” Trustee Tim Guyton said. “(Howard) doesn’t have the money to run the fire service 24/7 with the staffing he’s got.”

The chief has said for more than a year that the fire department’s budget was being hit by the elimination at the state level of taxes that historically have helped pay for fire protection.

Attempts to pass a fire levy failed in the May 2013 and November 2013 election, prompting Howard to scour his budget for any cost savings he could find. Nonetheless, he was facing a projected shortfall of about $300,000 for 2014 until township trustees agreed earlier this year to balance the fire department budget from the general fund.

The fire department still faces a deficit going into 2015, and Howard has recommended a third attempt at a fire levy this November.

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