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Fire Department set to add three more firefighters

Additions will bring crew to 50

Fire Department set to add three more firefighters

Fire Department set to add three more firefighters


The city is now advertising for three new firefighters as the Statesboro Fire Department expands its force to 48 paid, certified firefighters. Counting the two administrative assistants, it will be a 50-employee department.
City Council unanimously approved the addition of the three firefighting positions to the payroll Feb. 18 after hearing from Fire Chief Tim Grams and Public Safety Director Wendell Turner. Their presentation led to a discussion about reducing overtime, but they said the hiring will also serve other purposes as the department prepares to add one or more stations.
“This will allow us to alleviate a lot of the issues that we’re having right now with overtime and give us more leeway as far as having some floaters in between the shifts and raise our minimum staffing,” Turner told the mayor and council. “This is just the next leg in what we’ve been planning to do for the last three years.”
A 2011 Insurance Services Office evaluation resulted in a recommendation that Statesboro improve its firefighter staffing to maintain the assigned ISO rating of Class 3, Grams noted in an interview. This ISO number applies inside the city and a fire district out to a five-mile radius from its stations, when water from hydrants is close by.
ISO grades, used by insurance companies in setting their rates, are on a 10-1 scale with “10” representing no firefighting protection and “1” the best protection possible.
Under a plan laid out after the 2011 review, the Fire Department has been calling on city officials to increase staffing incrementally. The number of firefighters has been increased from 32 or 33 at the time of the review, Grams said, to 45 prior to the three planned hires.
“The overall goal is to get the staffing to meet the need in the community, and while the council is being extremely supportive, obviously there was no way we could come in and say, ‘We’re 20 firefighters short. We need 20 firefighters,’” Grams said. “We had to do it slowly over time.”
Grams also noted that the ISO rating improved with the 2011 review, from Class 3/Class 9 to Class 3/Class 8B. The second number, now 8B, refers to the protection level in areas without hydrants.
Grams believes improving the in-district rating to Class 2 is a realistic goal, he told the council.
Overtime
The Fire Department in 2013 amassed 4,697 hours of overtime, Grams and Turner reported to the council.
As they noted, overtime is a complicated issue for fire departments. Firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off, with four hours excess built into every 28-day cycle for each of 37 “line” personnel.
So overtime cannot be eliminated entirely, but the Statesboro Fire Department last year exceeded the amount built into the schedule by more than 2,000 hours.
With time-and-a-half pay required for overtime, 4,697 hours cost the city about $85,000, officials estimated during the meeting.
City Manager Frank Parker commented that at this rate, the Fire Department’s overtime cost could approach $100,000 this year. City Council members, such as John Riggs, who made the motion to add the firefighters, and Travis Chance, who seconded, said they would like to see reductions in overtime offsetting the costs of the three new hires.
“With these three additional firefighters, we should be able to cut that amount of overtime by hopefully at least half and maybe a little more,” Parker said.
Interviewed this week, Grams said he was uncertain whether the built-in overtime that results from the 24/48 scheduling cycle was included in last year’s count of 4,697 hours or was already built into the firefighters’ base salaries. He said he is researching this point, but that if the mandatory overtime is included in the total, a 50 percent reduction will be difficult to achieve.
“That’s something that I’m looking into, but in the end, we’re trying to reduce what we call the bad overtime, the overtime we can do without …,” Grams said. “The good overtime is the overtime such as guys coming back in for major calls – we want them to do that – the drills, the details. Those kinds of things we anticipate for.”
What the department will try to eliminate is unexpected overtime, such as when someone calling in sick would leave a shift understaffed. That’s when the added personnel should help.
“Regardless of what that number is, the overtime numbers are going to improve,” Grams said.
New station
The planned addition of a third fire station to be built in cooperation with the county also became part of the discussion. A committee to be named by the city and county will decide where to put it.
That process, Parker said, is awaiting the additional hires and the completion of upgrades to the city’s Grady Street fire station.
When Station 3 is built, the Fire Department will need additional personnel, Grams and Turner told the council. But, Turner said, the hires now authorized should place staffing at a level where they will not need to request more positions until then.
“It gets us to that next step of staffing to prepare for Station 3, or even possibly a fourth station, down the road, because if you’re going to add stations, you’re going to have to add personnel,” Grams said.
The advertised firefighter salary is $29,098, and a description is available under “Careers” at www.statesboroga.gov.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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