LORAIN — The city’s firefighters union took to Facebook to express its safety concerns Friday afternoon.
Lorain Professional Firefighters Local 267’s Safety Committee outlined the department’s decline in staffing over close to 20 years, and the concerns they have for the firefighters and the community they serve because of it. Local 267 covers everyone in the department but the fire chief.
“In the years since Sept. 11th, firefighters have gone from respected public servants to financial burdens on a suffering economy,” the committee states. “With multiple rounds of layoffs here in the Lorain Fire Department, we have continually been asked to work with less over the past 20 years … Yet the constant taking from our department has reached unsafe working conditions.”
It stated prior to 9/11, their staffing level was more than 90 strong, but it is now 66 after rounds of layoffs, retirements and young firefighters leaving the department for more stability and better pay.
This caused the department’s tower truck to take on the role of a heavy rescue vehicle for the past 10 years, and the union made a “desperate agreement” in 2018 to move its fourth crew member on the department’s pumper 1 to the tower to keep the vehicle open.
Assistant Fire Chief Matt Homolya said the department’s staffing level “really is stressing us.”
“It’s a call to arms in a little bit of a way,” he said of the union’s post. “I think the guys are just fed up with constantly decreasing manpower for so long. … It’s not that it’s unique to the Lorain Fire Department, but I think we’ve definitely reached a breaking point.”
He said the union could look to add an additional firefighter per shift or get a guarantee from the city to keep the tower truck open — authorizing it to pay overtime to do so. He said the department wants two people on the tower crew, ideally a captain and another firefighter.
He explained the advantage of having the tower truck open in addition to pumper 1 is the tower truck’s ladder is about 25 feet higher than pumper 1’s ladder, allowing firefighters to reach fires and perform certain type of rescues better than with the shorter ladder — especially on residential streets when the house is set back from the road.
Additionally, he said a lieutenant was cut from Central Station, meaning the captain on shift is responsible for coordinating a scene’s attack strategy inside, when normally his experience would be used in the department’ search and rescue via the tower truck.
“We’re left with firefighters, some of them are very capable of that, but some of them, not because they’re not good firefighters, they just don’t have the experience level; and we’re limited to the resources we have to fill that (tower) truck sometimes. And to put two younger guys … in that role is dangerous and somebody’s going to eventually get hurt,” he said.
Short staffing, Homolya said, has required commands to prioritize cutting back the fire or searching for victims first, when those things used to occur almost simultaneously. The union’s note cites Lorain’s call volume compared to its suburban counterparts exceeds what the “average firefighter” has to do.
Lorain Safety/Service Director Dan Given disagreed with the union’s characterization.
“The Fire Department is appropriately staffed for our community,” he said. “We take this very seriously. We are building two new fire stations to outfit our community.”
The city is replacing its east and west side fire stations, including the 100-year-old Station 4 on Idaho Avenue and E Street.
Contract negotiations are slated to start this fall, Homolya said.