By Jeff Gallatin
A veteran Bay Village firefighter who recently reached a settlement with the city in a federal lawsuit has retired from the department this month after reaching the 20-year mark – leaving the already short-staffed department down another man.
Firefighter Ron Westmoreland left the department July 6 – 20 years to the day after officially joining it. It comes just a few weeks after Westmoreland, his attorney, Avery Friedman, and city officials reached an undisclosed settlement on his case in the U.S. District Court of Appeals. Mayor Debbie Sutherland had suspended Westmoreland for a week shortly after he criticized city officials at a 2009 City Council meeting. Westmoreland, an expert diver, alleged that if the city had not disbanded the fire department dive team, it could have saved a boy who drowned in Lake Erie off Huntington Beach. City and Cleveland Metroparks officials disputed this, noting the condition of the water and that a Metroparks dive team had been ready on the beach to go in the water when the boy was found.
Parties involved in the case noted several times terms of the settlement specifically prohibited both sides from discussing the settlement.
‘It’s a pretty inclusive order,” Bay Village Law Director Gary Ebert said, in citing the agreement when he and Sutherland were asked if Westmoreland’s retirement was part of the settlement.
Westmoreland could not be reached for comment.
Both Sutherland and fire Chief Chris Lyons said Westmoreland’s departure causes additional staffing issues for the department, which already has had Lyons and department members criticize the recent shift of the department’s fire inspector to a regular shift from a 40-hour-a-week position.
“We had three retirements last year, and this just adds to it,” Lyons said. “I’ve got permission to hire two more firefighters and we’ve got them in the system. I hope to get those two hired in the next couple of weeks. They won’t be ready for duty right away, but at least we can get them in the department and ready as quickly as we can.”
Lyons said he hopes to get back to full strength as quickly as possible.
Brandon DiMacchia, head of the Bay Village firefighters union, said Westmoreland will be missed in more ways than one.
“Apparently, there was some type of agreement between Ron and the city administration that takes him off the books,” Dimacchia said. “I don’t know any details. I do know that he was one of my best water rescue instructors and he’ll be missed. I wish him the best. With this, we’re now four firefighter/paramedics short, and our fire prevention office is closed. Hopefully, the hiring process will speed up.”
Sutherland reiterated her plans to move the inspector’s position back to a 40-hour-a-week job as soon as the department gets additional staffing. She added, however, that the status of the inspector’s position is part of the ongoing contract talks between the city and the firefighters union. In addition, City Council also has discussed previously trying to get the inspector’s post to be on a regular shift.
“Losing another firefighter makes it more difficult, but I still want to move the inspector back to a 40-hour-a-week job,” Sutherland said. “We will try and fill the fire openings, but as I’ve said before, it takes time.”