Cuyahoga Falls fireman says union 'can live with' reduced staffing

by STeve wiandt | REPORTER Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- "This is a step in the right direction from the union's point of view," Cuyahoga Falls Fire Lt. and Union President David Witner said about new staffing levels approved by City Council.

Council voted 9-0 on Dec. 27 to reset fire department staffing levels to one chief, one assistant chief, three captains, 19 lieutenants and 49 firefighters.

Under the former staffing ordinance that was approved in 2004, the fire department was allowed one chief, two assistant chiefs, 19 lieutenants and 59 firefighters. The original version of the new staffing ordinance allowed for only 16 lieutenants.

"While I'm not really enamored at the numbers, I believe 73 is a number we can live with until the study comes back ..." Witner said, referring to a performance assessment of the fire department currently under way. He said he hopes the city is willing to maintain 73 and not go below that.

"We are slightly below 73," said Fire Chief Paul Moledor, adding the department intends to "get it up there as quickly as we can."

Council's approval followed three weeks of talks between Witner and the city administration that ended in a settlement between the city and the International Association of Firefighters Local 494 where the city agreed to allow the fire department to have 19 lieutenants and the union agreed to drop a legal complaint concerning three promotions, said Witner. As of Jan. 3, the settlement agreement had not been filed, he said, adding it would likely be filed on Jan. 7.

"The administration agreed to submit a negotiated staffing ordinance to City Council," said Paul Janis, the city's law director. "The plaintiffs agreed to release their staffing claims, lost wage claims, and attorneys fees claims, subject to adoption of the ordinance. The ordinance was adopted."

With the city's introduction of the updated ordinance and Council's subsequent approval, the fire department was planning to promote three firefighters -- Charmaine Luggelle, Christopher "Zak" Elzholz and Mike Stanec -- to the rank of lieutenant on Jan. 4, Witner told the Falls News-Press on Jan. 3.

The new fire staffing ordinance "just mirrors our number of firefighters with the amount we are going to have employed in 2013," Moledor said. "The staffing model then matches the actual staffing levels [given with appropriations]."

Moledor had previously announced at the Dec. 17 Council meeting that four new full-time firefighters are expected to be hired this month.

City Council will revisit the staffing ordinance when McGrath Consulting Group Inc. completes the performance assessment, according to Councilman Don Walters (D-6), chairman of Council's public affairs committee.

"We're going to use what they say and take another hard look at this," Walters said "But for now it seems that everyone is happy and we can live with the numbers in here … "

Moledor said his department will evaluate each of the firm's recommendations when they are released for cost effectiveness.

Councilwoman Carol Klinger (R-At Large), a member of the public affairs committee, said she was "pleased" that the McGrath study was mentioned in the updated version of the fire staffing ordinance and she would like to see the same type of evaluation done on the city's police department.

Walters said that a study of that sort is a possibility if it looks like it would be "money well spent, if we feel the need." He said it will depend if the recommendations McGrath makes in the fire department study save the city more than the study's $40,000 price tag.

Council also voted 9-0 in favor of a new staffing ordinance for the police department. The ordinance resets the levels to one chief, one captain, five lieutenants, 10 sergeants and 56 patrol officers to reflect current staffing levels. The previous levels were one chief, two captains, four lieutenants, 12 sergeants and 74 patrol officers.

On Oct. 8, Council unanimously rejected a measure reducing the authorized staffing for the police department and turned down the legislation lowering the authorized staffing for the fire department by an 8-3 vote.

Email: scwiandt@recordpub.com

phone: 330-541-9420

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