Ohio town to reopen fire station after push from union leaders

Union leaders reminded the city about the promise it made to voters who expected coverage to resume after an income tax increase was approved

By Michael Cooper and Katherine Collins
Springfield News-Sun

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — The City of Springfield will reopen a shuttered fire station on Saturday — less than two weeks after announcing plans to delay its reopening on Aug. 7 due to staffing and equipment issues — after calls from union leaders for it to keep the promise it made to voters who expected coverage to resume after an income tax increase was approved at the polls in May.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to respond to the concern that we said the station was going to open,” Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said. “While this will be an issue in terms of a budget expenditure, the decision was made that we need to as much as we can reassure people that we were going to do what we told them we were going to do when we voted on the levy.”

The reopening of the station will cost the city about $3,000 per day in overtime, Springfield Fire Division Chief Nick Heimlich said — meaning it will cost more than $100,000 during that time period.

The city embraced the importance of honoring its commitments during the recent levy campaign, Acting City Manager Tom Franzen said. The re-opening of the fire station and the police substation is the first step in delivering on those promises, he said.

“Many factors, such as staffing levels, equipment availability, and financial resources, must be considered when determining the appropriate time to re-open both Station 5 and the Police Substation,” Franzen said. “Specifically, several options were considered for the timing associated with the opening of Station 5, as current fire staffing levels are down and issues with our equipment/fleet exist.

“Ultimately, the decision was made to open Fire Station No. 5 starting (Saturday) despite the strain on financial resources and equipment,” Franzen said.

The fire station on Commerce Road and the Springfield Police Division’s substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue were both closed on Jan. 1 to save money as the city failed to pass a tax increase last November.

The city told voters it would re-open the stations in July, although elected officials and city staff told the News-Sun earlier this week that no July 1 date was promised as part of its levy campaign for a .4-percent income tax increase that would generate $6.7 million annually.

Heimlich told the city commission at its June 20 meeting the city wanted to delay the re-opening of Fire Station No. 5 until Aug. 7, when a group of 10 new firefighters were set to join its ranks.

However, that decision upset local union leaders who believed the city broke its promise to residents during its levy campaign. Response times in both the area around the closed station and throughout the city have increased since it closed earlier this year.

“At the end of the day we believe they’ve done the right thing,” said Andy Rigsbee, President of Springfield Professional Firefighters Local 333.

The city had considered the delay for financial reasons, he said, but for him it was more about the safety of residents.

Earlier this week, city leaders told the News-Sun the fire station would operate only during peak hours in July until Aug. 7.

However, the city decided on Thursday night to make the station fully operational on Saturday — hours after the firefighters union posted a video on its Facebook page urging residents to contact city commissioners to keep their promise to re-open the station on July 1.

“We believe that emergencies do not occur at predictable times and the remaining time that there is no fire or EMS protection is a risk for the citizens of Springfield,” the post read.

Rigsbee doesn’t believe the post is what changed the minds of city leaders, but rather the ongoing conversation the union had about public safety.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction by focusing on public safety as our primary concern,” he said.

Heimlich told the Springfield News-Sun it was a more efficient use of taxpayer money to open the station in August.

“I believe that I made the recommendation that I thought was the best recommendation,” he said. “That has been revised.”

The Springfield Police Division substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue will re-open on July 10 with one full-time employee stationed there, Police Chief Steve Moody said.

Similar considerations were made in deciding when to re-open the Johnny Lytle substation , Franzen said.

“Though the Levy was successful, the City must remain fiscally responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars in an effort to continue to strengthen our financial situation,” Franzen said. “Strengthening our financial position will allow us to make the investments necessary to move this community forward.”

Copyright 2017 Springfield News-Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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