Ohio Department Eyeing Command Cuts

July 11, 2013
The Hamilton Fire Department recently laid off five firefighters and made changes to stations.

July 11--HAMILTON -- With staffing and apparatus reductions in the Hamilton Fire Department, comes the abolishment of certain fire department positions.

The department presently permits a complement of nine captains, 15 lieutenants and 21 apparatus drivers. Reorganization would drop that to seven captain positions, 11 lieutenant positions and 15 apparatus driver positions.

The proposed reorganization, which would go through the Civil Service Commission, is necessary based on the efficiency study conducted regarding Hamilton's fire operations and the state of the city's general fund, officials said.

Based on that study, the city laid off five firefighters, temporarily closed Station 27 and took an apparatus out of service at Station 22.

But the cuts are necessary because Hamilton is "in dire financial conditions with an ever-declining General Fund balance," according to City Manager Joshua Smith.

"Since 2008, the City has experienced a drop in income tax revenue of $1.6 million per year due to the recession," Smith said in a June 24 letter to city council. "Additionally, there has been an annual drop of $176,000 from real property tax."

Overall, the city's general fund is projected to receive more than $7 million less in 2013 than it did in 2008, which constitutes 15 percent of the city's general fund revenue, Smith said.

Hamilton's early estimates are that it will spend approximately $2.9 million more than the revenue generated by the general fund in 2013, Smith said.

"If actions are not taken, the city may not be able to meet its obligations in 2015," he said.

Reorganizing will not result in layoffs or demotions, but instead will occur through attrition.

"Joshua took my recommendation," said Fire Chief Steve Dawson. "My feelings were that if you have someone whose been promoted and at a position for several years, obviously they're used to that income and that standard of living. All of sudden, just to yank that away from them, not only financially, but also psychologically, too ... that's not good for the morale, that's not good for the department, so that's why we're doing this through attrition."

The cost reductions associated with reorganization are necessary due to the reduction in force in the fire division, as well as the elimination of fire apparatus and the closure of a fire house, officials said.

Those annual cost savings include $10,143 for each individual not promoted lieutenant to captain, $8,868 for not promoting one person from firefighter to lieutenant and $1,181 for not promoting one person from the rank of firefighter to apparatus driver.

"We've reduced our ranks, we've reduced the number of apparatus," Dawson said. "This is our way of trying to heal the general fund."

Now, the department is doing more with less, he said.

"Now each of our fire units is making more runs, so the workload for all of our firefighters and fire apparatus has increased," Dawson said. "We're still working hard, we're still trying to perform hard."

But Eric Abney, president of Hamilton's fire union, said being down to 96 staffers with five engine companies and three squads -- instead of seven engine companies and three squads -- means not having the daily resources to operate in a safe manner.

"We don't have enough firefighters to handle a structure fire, so we're sending an additional squad to the structure fires for manpower," he said.

Since the city laid off five firefighters early last month, that scenario has occurred "every time we have a structure fire," he said.

"The one on Orchard Drive (on Thursday, June 27) ... that was a basic structure fire and they had to call in overtime to man a reserve company because there was no coverage in the entire city," Abney said.

Copyright 2013 - Hamilton JournalNews, Ohio

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