By Jeff Gallatin
City administration officials are seeking possible compromises as a proposal to place the city fire inspector’s post on a regular shift instead of a 40-hour week draws heavy criticism from the fire chief.
Discussion of the proposal at Monday’s City Council meeting was pulled off the agenda earlier in the day. Finance Committee Chairman Paul Koomar had broached the topic in the council caucus session Sept. 19 asking if anybody wanted to discuss it that week. Mayor Debbie Sutherland said the officials could discuss it then or put it on the next week’s agenda. After City Council President Brian Cruse asked when they would like to discuss it with no definitive answer, he placed it on the Sept. 26 agenda for discussion.
Then, officials decided to take it off the agenda until next week.
“There are still some things out in play which means it would be better to not rock the boat and wait a week before we talk about this,” Cruse said Monday afternoon.
Koomar said he wants to discuss the matter.
“We’re looking for some direction from the administration about this,” he said.
He said finances are again a key part of the discussion.
“If we can cut some overtime on the shifts by having another person and shifting this person over, then it could help the city financially,” he said. “Right now, in the current economic climate we’re looking at everything.”
Mayor Debbie Sutherland said she hopes the extra time proves fruitful.
“Right now, it seems like all or nothing proposals when it comes to this,” she said. “I’m hopeful that we can find somewhere in between and resolve this.”
There has already been some initial talk of taking the inspector’s position off it’s current 40-hour a week status and instead putting him on a regular shift, meaning he would respond to fires, accidents and other incidents when he is not handling his inspection duties.
Fire Chief Chris Lyons has challenged this, saying it would leave the inspector unable to properly perform his job duties. As a result, the fire and life safety inspection program which identifies possible violations to fire codes and potential safety hazards in the schools done by the inspector in Bay Village schools would be terminated. He said this would likely mean the state fire marshal’s office would have to assume the duty of inspecting the schools instead.
“It’s not like the inspector is not out doing anything,” Lyons said. “He usually is following through on different inspections like the schools or a business check. I can tell you it’s a pretty busy schedule.”
He also questioned using the fire inspector on a shift just to cut into department overtime.
“Yes, the overtime’s up, but we’ve had injuries and unfilled positions due to retirement which have helped cause that,” he said. “I’d say the department has already helped contribute to financial savings.”
He said his figures show about $50,000 in overtime costs, but about $250,000 in salary savings from open fire positions.
“We’ve been running pretty lean for a number of years anyway,” he said. “We’re the only department I know in the city that doesn’t have a secretary. And if you look around at other departments in the area, most of them have at least one assistant chief and/or an administrative assistant.”
Bay Village Fire Union President Brandon DiMacchia said the organization is watching the situation closely.
“I’d say we’ve already contributed a good bit in terms of personnel and finances to the city,” he said. “We gave up one floater position in the last contract and the department is also contributing to the general fund budget with fees collected from the ambulance runs.”
Lyons said the department can’t use the remaining floater position as effectively right now.
“With two open positions and injuries, we’re using that person on regular shifts and still can’t do as much,”he said.
Finance Director Steve Presley said the fire inspector could still perform inspection duties.
“When he’s not on a call, he’s free to go out and handle his inspection duties,” he said. “If there’s a call and he’s out, he can respond to the scene from there.”
Lyons said he also would like to make sure he is there to present his department’s interests in case the matter is discussed in an executive session, contending it may well have been discussed that way already.
“I’m the one they’re paying to run the department, I should be there,” he said.
“That’s certainly worth considering,” he said when asked about the chief’s concerns.
Sutherland said she wants Lyons in any executive session where fire department personnel are discussed.
“He’s the fire chief,” she said, adding that she hopes some discussion between the department and administration can lead to a potential solution to present to council next week.