City seeks to hire part-time firefighters
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodaySEBRING Following complaints from firefighters about large amounts of mandatory overtime, the city is seeking to hire part-time firefighters, apparently for the first time in the Sebring Fire Department's history.
Published: January 11, 2013
Published: January 11, 2013
City Administrator Scott Noethlich said that the city began advertising this week for the part-time firefighters, who are required to have minimum standard firefighter and emergency medical technician training.
If the city finds qualified part-time workers, there's still no guarantee that no-one will be forced to do overtime.
Fire Chief Brad Batz said if the department has shifts that must be covered, the normal procedure of asking all firefighting personnel to volunteer would be followed. He said that if no one volunteers, the department would try to find a part-time firefighter available for the shift.
If no part-time firefighters are available, the department would go to a list of those who are subject to mandatory overtime and pick the highest person on the list who is working the shift before the overtime is needed.
Currently, all shifts must have five firefighters on duty. Under normal circumstances, firefighters work 24 hours, get 48 hours off and then work another 24 hours.
Daniel "Ross" Edmonds, president of the Sebring Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local #3210, said the problem of mandatory overtime has become more of a problem during the past two years, and particularly during December when a lot of people want time off. Some firefighters end up being required to work two overtime shifts in a row and then having to work their normal shift.
Edmonds said that not only separates firefighters from their families for a long period of time, but also puts them at increased risk for accidents and other problems.
"Considering several studies, including a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency case study, has evidence that supports a percentage increase in firefighter injuries with that of fatigue increase," Edmonds wrote earlier this year to Noethlich. "On Jan. 1st of this year we experienced one such incident when Second Lt. Miles McGee suffered a broken leg at a fire scene while working a mandatory overtime shift," Edmonds wrote.
Although firefighters have downtime during the 24-hour shifts they experience stress being away from their families for protracted periods, he said. Edmonds said he finds it hard to sleep, knowing that he could be called out any minute.
Edmonds said that in the past firefighters volunteered for overtime because they wanted to earn more money. But when it ended up that they were required sometimes to work a second consecutive overtime shift, they stopped volunteering, he said.
City officials don't expect a problem finding part-time firefighters. Batz said a lot of fire departments have faced cutbacks, making it difficult for graduates of fire and emergency rescue education programs to find jobs.
"There's a lot of people seeking these jobs, full time, part time of whatever they can get," Batz said.
While accepting the idea of hiring part-time firefighters, the union believes the residents will end up being served by firefighters with less experience and knowledge of the community, Edmonds said.
The need for part-time firefighters is rooted in the dispute between the union and the city over a new contract, Edmonds said.
During the past two years, six firefighters have left the department, he said. The city has not replaced those firefighters.
The city has not hired full time firefighters because they would be hired under the existing system that provides a pension, Noethlich said.
One of the contract points of contention is that the city wants to eliminate pensions for new firefighters or those not vested and replace the retirement plan with a 401K. Noethlich said the change will save money for the city.
The city will have the actual amount of savings later this month, he said.
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