Blackburn says he warned city officials of overtime

STEUBENVILLE – The president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228 said Friday he tried to warn city officials that planned layoffs of firefighters would result in more overtime.

Chris Blackburn said he talked to former City Manager Cathy Davison and several city council members, “to tell them the layoff of five firefighters would create unnecessary overtime.”

“The city laid off those five firefighters then agreed to bring them back, but then they laid off two firefighters. I explained we have a 10-person minimum manning level agreement. We must staff 10 people on a shift. We usually staff 11 men on a turn and that gives us a cushion,” explained Blackburn.

“When the city administration decided to close the Pleasant Heights fire station they left the utilities on in the building and simply moved the firefighters from that station to the downtown station or the West End station. So where are the savings? The Pleasant Heights fire station should be re-opened for the protection of the residents of Pleasant Heights and LaBelle. I pleaded with the city manager and council members to not close the Pleasant Heights fire house,” declared Blackburn.

Blackburn said he wanted to respond to comments made Tuesday night by 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.

Finance Director Alyssa Kerker said legislation will be needed to amend the 2013 revenue budget and the expenditures budget to account for overtime in the police department and fire department as well as the police department motor maintenance fund.

“We had estimated about $22,000 this year for overtime for the fire department but we now estimate it will approach the $100,000 mark. The fire department contract has a minimum manning level,” said Kerker.

“This all started when we closed the Pleasant Heights fire station. That was supposed to save money. But now it is a game,” responded Perkins.

“We are staffing 11 men per turn and that gives us a little flexibility. Negotiations with the firefighters are right around the corner and that issue will be discussed,” said Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci.

“During a nine-month period recently we had four fires with fatalities. Two of those fire fatalities involved children. When isn’t a fire serious? Our job is to catch a fire when it is small before it becomes a big fire. All fires are serious. There is no such thing as a small or minor fire. We are worried about the safety of our firefighters and the residents of the city,” remarked Blackburn.

“I learned my lesson when I was a rookie firefighter. A lady called in and said she had a small kitchen fire and that’s how I put out the call. But by the time the firefighters got there it was a two-room, fully engulfed fire. A veteran firefighter told me to never tell the responding crew it is just a small fire, because it could be much worse by the time they arrive,” related Blackburn.

“Seeing your residence on fire or losing a family member is not how families think their day will go. No one gets up in the morning thinking they will face a fire,” Blackburn said.

“We don’t want the overtime, we want our people working. I would rather see our two-laid off firefighters back on their jobs. I tried to tell the administration the loss of firefighters would mean overtime. I presented documents to the administration and several council members showing what the lay-off would cost the city. The fire department overtime was budgeted at $22,000 at the beginning of the year. We would have come very close to that number. But the overtime issues started when the council made plans to close the fire station and lay-off firefighters,” cited Blackburn.

“I can tell you the safety of our citizens and visitors to the city is no game. The minimum manning level is in place for the protection of the citizens of Steubenville. I view our firefighters as an insurance policy. You hope you never have to call us, but if you need the fire department you are glad we are here. We view all of our residents as equal and deserving of fire protection. We must maintain the minimum manning level to provide every citizen the protection they deserve,” declared Blackburn.

“I have a solution that I will discuss when we start our contract negotiations in the coming weeks. I am not going to reveal the solution until we sit down for contract talks. The fire department has made concessions in the past to help this city deal with financial concerns only to be chastised and ridiculed by certain council members. We hope to have an amicable negotiations and reach a solution that will benefit all of our citizens and provide a safe working environment for our firefighters,” commented Blackburn.

“We are firefighters, but that is a misnomer. Firefighters respond to everything from an iguana in a tree to saving someone’s life. When you need help you call me. We respond from the most simple issue to saving a life,” Blackburn said.