Excerpts from MySuburbanlife.com:
The Elmhurst Fire Department has three firefighter vacancies it hasn’t replaced because of state budgetary concerns.
Elmhurst City Manager Jim Grabowski addressed the issue at the April 18 City Council meeting after residents spoke about the vacancies at the April 4 and 11 meetings.
Elmhurst resident Geoff Gaebel spoke during the public comment portion of the April 18 meeting. Gaebel, a firefighter in another municipality, said the Elmhurst Fire Department has been short three firemen for about a year, bringing the staffing down to the lowest level since 1999.
The problem with the shortage, Gaebel said, is either the fire trucks are operating below standard levels or firefighters are working overtime to make up for the staffing insufficiency.
“When the apparatus runs with less than three personnel, bad things happen,” Gaebel said. “Bad things happen to the firefighters; bad things happen to the city, to the residents, to the buildings, to the lives of this town.”
Gaebel cited a National Fire Protection Association document and a City Managers Association study that states at least a four-person crew is needed to pump and deliver water and perform search and rescue.
Grabowski provided the city council and residents with the reasoning behind not hiring firefighters for the three vacant positions. He emphasized that despite the shortage the fire department is performing at the expected standards.
“I want to stress that the residents of Elmhurst are safe right now as we were nine months ago and nine years ago,” Grabowski said.
He went on to say he has not authorized hiring the three replacements because of the state budget crisis.
“The potential direct effect of [the Illinois budget crisis] to Elmhurst is a proposal to eliminate $2.2 million of Elmhurst revenue,” Grabowski said. “This is revenue that we would normally receive unless the General Assembly approves legislation to change the funding formula and withhold this from Elmhurst.”
The city manager said the biggest expense for the city is personnel, so if there is a reduction in revenue, the city may have to consider layoffs … adding that a clause in the collective bargaining agreement with the fire union prohibits layoffs to firefighters during the contract period, which lasts through May 2017.
To make up for the shortage, firefighters are being paid time-and-a-half to cover all three shifts.
Alderman Mark Mulliner spoke after Grabowski, saying he believes the reduction in staff negatively affects the firefighters.
“By placing firemen in overtime and requiring them to be on overtime you are putting an undue burden on those firefighters as far as expecting them to be there on double shifts during certain times,” Mulliner said. “There is a grave concern about that.”
He also said Grabowski’s cost argument for not replacing the firefighters was invalid because paying firefighters overtime is also a great cost to the city. Additionally, Mulliner said, there have been other hires in the last year that contradict the potential revenue reduction from the state.
“I’m gravely concerned about the fact that we continually say we are not going to hire these three firefighters,” Mulliner said. “By the way, it is actually four [vacancies] because we are down a chief right now. “
Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
Comments by a resident at a recent Elmhurst City Council meeting have focused attention on fire department staffing levels.
Geoff Gaebel, who said he is a lifelong Elmhurst resident and a firefighter in a nearby town, has criticized the city’s decision not to hire additional firefighters to replace two who retired and one who is on medical disability.
“The Elmhurst Fire Department is currently short three members and has been for about a year, bringing the department down to its lowest staffing level since 1999,” Gaebel said.
City manager James Grabowski noted the city contracts with Metro Paramedic Services, Inc., part of Superior Ambulance Service, for two advanced life support ambulances and 12 paramedics who average seven years of experience, and that the department was covering the three vacancies with overtime.
“None of the three shifts is running a firefighter short,” Grabowski said. “Each shift is being covered by an Elmhurst firefighter being paid time and a half.”
He cited uncertainty over Illinois state finances and provisions of the firefighter union contract for not hiring replacements for the three positions.
“We’d just like to see our manning (restored) to replace the three guys and anyone additional that retires,” said Ed Siuzdak, an Elmhurst firefighter and member of the executive board of the Elmhurst Local 3541 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Siuzdak said union representatives had discussed with Grabowski removing the no layoff provision, but didn’t get a clear commitment from him that he would then hire firefighters to fill the vacancies.
Siuzdak said union representatives had also talked with Grabowski about upgrading fire engines with advanced life support equipment, including monitors, telemetry, and advanced life support level drugs as backups when ambulances are out on other calls or far from a medical emergency.
According to Siuzdak, about a third of firefighters are paramedics but aren’t functioning in that role.
Grabowski indicated Tuesday he was still concerned with budget and revenue issues. The offer to drop the no layoff provision also involved several other issues and would have applied only to possible layoffs of new hires for the three existing vacancies, he said.
He added that discussions over upgrading engines to advanced life support levels had not covered possible additional personnel costs or questions about how many certified paramedics would be available on any given shift to cover the upgraded apparatus.