Ohio firefighters sound alarm against cuts to prehospital care response

Norwalk firefighters' union says a new policy will cut responses to 12 of 16 general medical alarms, despite many firefighters also being medics


Joe Centers
Norwalk Reflector, Ohio

NORWALK, Ohio — There is a battle brewing between the City of Norwalk and its firefighters.

Starting Monday, there will be a change in who responds to 911 emergency calls in Norwalk.

"The Norwalk Firefighters, Local 1199, sounds public alarm to a new city directive which will restrict them from responding to 911 calls for help," union president Charles Hillman said in a release. "For over a decade firefighters have been equipped and millions of dollars have been invested in their training to ensure that they would be prepared to help when you call 911. Effective Monday, a new policy will cut responses to 12 of the 16 general medical alarms.

"This decision puts lives in the balance," Hillman continued. "They're going to cut off or delay oxygen to patients in respiratory distress, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic; it's simply unfathomable to me.

"Patients needing oxygen or other medical interventions from COVID-19, children having an asthma attack, or other respiratory alarms will now have to wait for care even if firefighters are readily available just blocks away. Additional cuts include stopping responses to possible heart attacks, traumatic injuries, calls for help, infants or children choking and seizures."

In the release, Hillman noted that more than half of the firefighters in Norwalk are trained paramedics.

"We have the same equipment that they carry on the ambulance, and we have been delivering the same care in unison with them for years," he said. "Our mission has always been to take care of our patients together first. Now the bureaucrat's downtown are ordering us to not respond when a baby is choking or when a loved one is having chest pain or trouble breathing, even though we have the training and equipment on the fire engines to save lives."

Hillman urged people who are concerned about this to contact city council member and Mayor Dave Light. Norwalk Firefighters also ask that you sign an online petition at tinyurl.com/SendNorwalkFirefighters.

Light said the situation comes down to money and overtime.

"The fire department is out of money again," Light said. "No matter how much they get, they run out of money in July ... what we have been trying to get is get some cooperation from them to cut down on the overtime."

There are four firefighters on duty at all times. When they all get called out, others are called in. Light said overtime last year was about $200,000.

"There have been 67 times they called the entire department in," Light said. "We want them to stop those themselves. We can't keep giving them an open checkbook.

"I want the best-equipped, best-trained fire department the citizens can afford."

Light cited the city of Willard as an example. Willard has eight firefighters to cover four nearby townships and all of the city.

"They do it with a perfect model," Light said. "They have eight full-time firefighters and about 30 part-time firefighters. Overtime the last few years has been $30,000 for them. You can't tell me we can't do that.

"It's a financial thing," he added. "We are asking them to reduce the money they take home in overtime. Sometimes we have to step in. Something has to be done. We want them to handle the situation on their own and they refuse. Some of that is pulling back on EMS calls they are not needed at."

Light noted the EMS situation makes up most of the overtime issues.

"We are blessed to have North Central EMS in town, which transports the people," he said. "They only use the ambulance sitting down there one percent of the time."

Light said a meeting was set for Wednesday afternoon with the fire chief and assistant chief to "sit down and, once again, to see what can be done."

"Every department in the city is doing a fantastic job on pulling back on expenses ... everyone is doing more for less. All we are doing is asking them to step up and do their share," Light said. "They have to pull back on some of this stuff and help our community. The easy fix, according to them, is for the mayor of the city to raise taxes so we can throw money their way. We are not going to do that.

"Their only remedy is to hire more firemen. It's more than $100,000 a year (per fireman) with insurance and everything. They make it a union thing and play on people's emotions. North Central is there to handle this."

Light said it costs about $1,400-600 each time the entire fire crew is called into the station.

"We're not getting into the ambulance business," he said. "We pay North Central $95,000 a year for the service. National response is nine minutes and they are doing it in four."

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(c)2021 the Norwalk Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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