Youngstown fire chief looks to hire more firefighters, address overtime budget concerns
Youngstown's fire chief is asking the city council to help find money in the budget for five additional firefighters, among other positions.
This comes as the Chief says overtime costs are once again likely to exceed budget.
"Our staffing here at the fire department is getting drastically low," said Fire Chief Barry Finley during a city finance meeting.
Finley tells council that by August, if the city doesn't do some hiring, he will be down 13 positions since taking over as chief in 2018.
"We have been doing more with less," said Finley. "We need boots on the ground right now."
Finley said for trucks to run they need to be manned by at least three firefighters. By losing staff over the years through attrition they've now reached a point where everyday sick time and vacation time are hindering their ability to operate.
Just last year, fire stations around the city were closed on a rotating basis because the department exceeded its overtime budget.
"Do we need more firefighters because we are having more structure fires? Or do we need more because firefighters keep calling off?" questioned Councilman Julius Oliver. "If we are not having as many fires with as many structures as we had in the past, how do we justify hiring more firefighters to fight less fires?"
Finley said the problem is not due to call offs alone, but how the system is set up.
"As long as they don't make a pattern out of it, sick time can be used. But that's not the meat of our problem," said Finely. "I want more firefighters because I want more guys on the fire ground."
Finley also noted that the job of a firefighter has shifted over the years. Crews are called out for wellness checks and last year, he said, more than 500 lift assists.
"And in the city of Youngstown, it's really simple. In Youngstown, unless somebody is getting beat up, robbed, shot, stabbed or killed, they call the fire department for everything else." said Finely.
Mayor Tito Brown is offering his support to the chief and proposing that the additional hires may be phased in if the city is unable to afford them in a single year.
"This is a long term plan. This isn't just 2021," said Brown.
In addition to the five firefighter positions, Finely is asking council to budget for an assistant chief, fire inspector and mechanic.
Finley says without an additional fire inspector the city's ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating may increase and the cost of homeowners insurance in the city may also rise.
Finley also says a mechanic is needed to help reduce how long trucks are out of service.
"We have a lot of down time with our vehicles," said Finely.
Council now needs to determine if hiring more staff is a viable solution and where the money would come from with already tight finances city wide.