Fire department cites needs for more emergency staff

GREENFIELD — Greenfield firefighters expect to receive about 200 more emergency calls this year than last, leading to concern about wait times for those who call for help, Chief James Roberts said.

While the Greenfield Fire Territory recently welcomed five new firefighters into its ranks, department officials say the added personnel are not enough to keep up with a higher call volume.

Emergency Operations Center records show more calls are coming in to dispatch than ever before, Roberts said. If the trend continues, the department will see a record 3,600 calls in 2015; an increase from the 3,400 for help crews responded to in 2014, Roberts said.

To address that kind of increase, the Greenfield Fire Territory could use as many as a dozen new firefighters, Roberts said, adding he knows such a request is unrealistic considering the department’s recent budget woes.

The department proposed a $4.9 million operating budget for 2015, but the state approved about $4.4 million, leaving the department roughly $502,000 short, records show.

In an effort to combat the shortfall, the department delayed hiring additional staff to save $253,500 in salaries and benefits. The remaining $250,000 was covered by the city’s local option income tax, money reserved for public safety departments.

In September, the Greenfield Board of Works and Public Safety approved the hiring of two new paramedics and three medic/firefighters. Roberts said the new hires, who are finishing training, are a step in the right direction, but they don’t completely solve the ongoing under-staffing problem.

Two of the department’s newcomers filled spots left open by retirements; the remaining three were positions added to the department to help cover the growing number of emergency runs.

Each new member will work a standard rotating shift of 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty, which puts one more person on duty every day of the week than what the department had at this time last year, Roberts said.

Even with the new staffers, one of the department’s ambulances sits unused during the day because there are not enough people to operate it. Instead, the department regularly relies on medics from Buck Creek and Sugar Creek townships to aid with calls from patients who need to go to the hospital.

The assistance is part of a mutual aid agreement among the departments but isn’t a perfect solution, said Joe Fitzgerald, a battalion chief with the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department. Neither Greenfield nor Sugar Creek has reported any major delays in response times, but the shortage of personnel strains local resources, officials said.

“Some days, it is a burden, and other days, it is not; it’s hit and miss,” Fitzgerald said. “But the nature of our business is to handle problems.”

A desire to keep the community safe steered the city’s decisions throughout the budgeting process, which led officials to allot $250,000 for department expenses, Mayor Chuck Fewell said.

It’s unclear whether city officials will be called upon again. The department’s 2016 budget will be sent to the state if the city gives its stamp of approval this week.

Roberts said he plans to ask the city to bring on more firefighters and paramedics in the coming years. If those requests are fulfilled, eventually, the department will be operating with a full staff, he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.