by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER
Streetsboro — After four part-time firefighters were sworn in Nov. 5 by the city, the department’s count is 22, which nearly is Fire Chief Robert Reinholz’s goal.
“We like to have about 24 to 25 part-timers,” he said. “We have three 24-hour part-time slots per day. As long as we have enough part-timers to fill those slots, we’re fine.”
It will cost the city about $525,000 a year to hire four part-time firefighters, officials said, and the money would come from the city’s general fund operating budget.
“You can fill those hours that are available, and you don’t have to worry about vacations,” Mayor Glenn Broska said.
Broska said his goal for the fire department is to have a minimum of seven fire personnel on duty at all times.
“The way to facilitate that is to increase our part-time staffing,” he said. “We’ll see how this works to get our staffing up to the desired levels. If we have to hire more, we will.
“If we keep our staffing at a minimum of seven, it allows us to respond quicker to calls,” Broska said. “When we are at four or five, we may only be able to accommodate one call before we have to get mutual aid [from neighboring fire departments.]”
Broska said there is no state or city minimum staffing level.
“The only requirement the state has is if you’re a city, you have to have a fire department,” Broska said.
Councilman Chuck Kocisko, chairman of the city’s safety committee, said hiring more part-time firefighters is “a wonderful idea.”
“Our fire chief has the right idea,” Kocisko said. “Hiring part-timers gives you a bit more room to work with [staffing] hours if you need to. You can move people around in the right time slots.
“You certainly don’t hope for emergencies, but they happen,” he added.
Streetsboro also has 18 full-time firefighters.
The fire department now has three part-timers per shift.
Part-timers who were sworn in were Brock Bailey, who is also a full-time firefighter in Boardman; Nate Miller, a part-timer in Hiram; Keith Faron, a part-timer in Northfield Village; and Alec Keener, a part-timer in Ravenna Township.
“You have two types of part-timers — those who are full time at other fire departments and work for us on their days off, and those who are part-time for us and part-time for other departments,” Reinholz explained.
Reinholz admitted that using part-time firefighters can be “a double-edged sword.”
“It’s cheaper to have part-timers because you don’t pay them benefits, but their ultimate goal is to become full time, so there is more turnover,” he said. “They may want to go somewhere else to become full time, and you can’t hold that against them.
“When you hire a full-time firefighter, they’re often here for 25 years,” he said. “Part-timers are more likely to leave.”
In Streetsboro, part-timers earn about $15 an hour.
Reinholz said the department has to provide firefighting gear for part-timers, which costs about $2,000 each, in addition to training them.
“So you’re making an investment,” he said.
Some cities don’t use part-timers, the chief said, so he believes Streetsboro is fortunate to do so.
Reinholz said a department typically cannot sign up too many part-timers because there wouldn’t be enough hours for them.
“They might say, ‘Why should I work here if I can only work six hours a month?’” he said.
Part-timers fill hourly slots, and they can sign up for shifts.
“In the summer, full-time firefighters take vacations, so your manning levels are usually higher in the winter months,” he said.
“Juggling part-timers’ schedules can be difficult between two departments,” Reinholz said. “We try to coordinate it to make it easier for them. It doesn’t make sense for them to have to give up one of their jobs in order to work for us.
“Our part-timers are a great asset to our department,” Reinholz said. “I’m glad to have the part-timers we have. Streetsboro has a great combination of full-time and part-time firefighters. We’re one big family.”