By Michelle Dupler
Franklin Township ambulances and fire engines are back on the road and staffed with firefighter/paramedics getting overtime pay funded by the township’s general fund.
In a 2-1 vote at the May 8 meeting, trustees Don Cook and John Fleshman agreed to backfill the fire department with general fund money less than two weeks after Fire Chief Rick Howard said he was going to eliminate most overtime pay to save money.
At the April 24 trustees meeting, Howard announced that he was going to limit overtime to one fire department staffer in a given shift.
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, and three is the bare minimum. An ambulance requires two people to operate.
The township’s two fire 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 told trustees on April 24 that with three people on medical leave and vacation season starting, there would be times when there weren’t enough people to provide the minimum staffing required to run an ambulance or a fire engine.
Cook, chairman of the board, said that after hearing ambulances and fire engines already had been taken out of service a handful of times in less than two weeks since the new policy started, he and Fleshman wanted to make sure that those vehicles were available in the case of an emergency.
“We want to keep everything in service for as long as we can,” Cook said. “We don’t want to take stuff out of service.”
He said Howard was asked to watch the fire department budget and alert trustees if there any unusual expenditures that might necessitate taking another look at cutting back on overtime.
“Right now we just have to watch our money because we’re going to be short,” Cook said.
He added that the hope is that township residents will approve a fire levy in November that would help the department avoid a budget deficit going into 2015. Voters rejected fire levies twice in 2013, and the fire department started 2014 expecting about a $300,000 deficit by the end of this year largely because of the elimination of state taxes that have paid for fire service. Trustees agreed to fill the gap from the general fund.
Trustee Tim Guyton voted against rescinding the overtime policy. He said that the other trustees were sending the wrong message to township voters by agreeing to pay for overtime out of the general fund.
“I voted against this and told the audience that apparently you do not have to vote yes to support a fire/EMS levy, because you have voted no twice and the service levels continue to be the same, and trustees continue to fund the department from the general fund, even though we have other service needs for the same money,” Guyton said.