WOODMERE — Village Council called a special work session Saturday to discuss the needs of the Fire Department, including funding for 2019 and resolving staffing issues.
Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley opened the meeting by reminding council of the importance of their safety services.
“I’m against regionalizing safety so that residents can enjoy the level of service that they have always had,” she said. “We want fast response times.”
Anticipating department needs, Treasurer Tom Cornhoff during a Monday meeting proposed increasing the fire appropriations next year to $561,000 for wages, reflecting a $69,000 increase from this year.
Ms. Earley said Saturday that she heard a couple of concerns regarding the fire department’s response on calls, but said that these could have been isolated incidents. She explained that council needs to find a way to fund the department without going bankrupt and find an efficient solution for keeping personnel on the job.
“We have to be economically self-sufficient and sustainable,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell said that she was “uncomfortable” discussing ongoing issues with the fire department because she does not support regionalizing village services. Neighboring communities – including Moreland Hills, Hunting Valley, Bentleyville, South Russell and Chagrin Falls Township – contract with the nonprofit Chagrin Falls Suburban Volunteer Fireman’s Association, Inc., for fire and emergency medical coverage.
“I would never agree to not have our own fire department,” Ms. Brockwell said. “As residents age, it’s important for every second it takes to get to the house. We’re talking about safety and the lives of every resident.”
There currently are 31 members of the Woodmere fire department, according to Fire Chief Johnny Brewington. The chief is the only full-time employee, but there also is an assistant chief, two captains and one lieutenant. Chief Brewington said depending on the pay period, the assistant chief may work 10 hours in two weeks, one captain may work 18 hours and the other may work 23 hours.
Councilwoman Glenda Todd Miller said that the village needs accountability from their officers.
“In order for things to work, someone must be in charge all the time,” she said. “We don’t have accountability in our captains because they’re not there.”
Council members also discussed their ideal qualifications for a member of the fire department. In order to apply in Woodmere, individuals must have the Firefighter II certification, meaning that they have completed the 240-hour course through an Ohio chartered fire training program, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The applicants must also have emergency medical technician basic training.
The department would also like more of their members to be certified as paramedics, who have more advanced training than EMTs, according to Chief Brewington. Woodmere currently has six firefighters who are certified as paramedics and both captains are paramedics.
Scheduling has been an ongoing difficulty for the village. Mr. Cornhoff said that it would be ideal to have at least one paramedic on every shift, but since these are part-time positions, the firefighters often have a full-time position in another municipality. The department currently works on two 12-hour shifts. Chief Brewington said that there are four firefighters on the day shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and three on the night shift.
Councilman Craig Wade said that Woodmere needs to hold employees of the fire department accountable for working their fair share of hours.
“When someone is part-time, they’re still committing to a certain number of hours, but the chief can’t get them to work the hours that they have committed to,” he said. “Normally, they would get fired. There needs to be a commitment on both sides.”
Ms. Earley asked Mr. Cornhoff if it is financially sustainable to add another full-time employee to the department. Mr. Cornhoff said that it is possible and suggested paying a firefighter/paramedic $20 an hour and a firefighter who is not a paramedic $17 per hour to attract candidates.
Mr. Cornhoff said that he does not want to change the budget model until after the fire department hires new employees.
“Whatever model they come up with, I will make it fit,” Mr. Cornhoff said of the budget.