XENIA — After a lengthy discussion Thursday night, city council voted to begin laying the groundwork for a part-time firefighter program.
When the city will financially need to activate the program is an unknown, but when that time comes city officials will be a step or two ahead of the process.
The shift to part-time was recommended in the 2012 safety study in an effort to save the city money in a dwindling economy. But feasibility concerns, the current labor market and the inability to accurately predict savings caused the city staff to recommend maintaining the status quo on Thursday.
Council endorsed that decision, but at the suggestion of councilman John Caupp, directed City Manager Brent Merriman to begin doing the “back end” items and administrative tasks so the city is ready when it decides to implement a part-time firefighter plan.
That directive came after myriad comments, questions and opinions from members of council. The most vocally in support of the part-time was Caupp, who said he sat down with other fire chiefs and city managers and studied more than half dozen area fire departments who have part-timers.
“It’s not out of the norm,” he told council.
Despite staffing concerns and limiting hours to avoid mandatory benefits, other departments aren’t drowning in a quagmire.
“They make it work,” he said. “People are not keeling over dead in these cities because they use a part-time fireman.” He added that many part-time firefighters for one department are full-time firefighters elsewhere.
Councilwoman Jeanne Mills worked in a fire department and is against a part-time program, casting the only no vote. She said part-time positions are used by firefighters as stepping stones to full-time work and more often than not leave as soon as a full-time job is secured.
The other concern expressed was that the part-time firefighters who are not full-time at another department would choose overtime at their civilian job over the part-time firefighter pay. Councilman Wesley Smith said he wouldn’t hesitate to call in sick if his overtime pay at work was more than he could make with a part-time shift at a fire department.
Merriman added that part-time firefighters “don’t develop the (same) skill set as full-timers.”
Caupp stressed that he was not out to make current fire fighters lose their jobs. He suggested that through attrition the full-time jobs be converted into part-time, keeping a core full-time group together and filling in the gaps.
All seemed to agree that at some point, unless the economy changes, full-time positions will need to be eliminated.