Michael Cooper and Katherine Collins On Jul 2, 2017
A Springfield fire station shuttered earlier this year will reopen amid pressure from the local firefighters union.
June 30–SPRINGFIELD, OH– A police and fire station shuttered earlier this year by the city of Springfield are reopening this month amid pressure from local unions.
Fire Station No. 5 opened on Saturday — less than two weeks after the city announced plans to postpone its reopening from July 1 to Aug. 7 due to staffing and equipment issues — after calls from union leaders for it 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 city embraced the importance of honoring its commitments during the recent levy campaign, Acting City Manager Tom Franzen said. The reopening 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 reopen 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 Springfield Police Division substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue will reopen on July 10 with one full-time employee stationed there, Police Chief Steve Moody said.
The reopening of the fire 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 fire station on Commerce Road and the police substation 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 reopen the stations in July, although elected officials and city staff told the Springfield News-Sun 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.
“We never made any promises in our materials to the public about a July 1 opening,” Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. “We always said we wanted to open them as soon as possible.”
The “blessing in all of this” is that the levy passed, he said. The city intends to keep its commitments to taxpayers, Bodenmiller said
“We’ll absolutely be keeping our promises to the citizens,” Bodenmiller said. “We absolutely intend to keep our commitments.”
Heimlich told the city commission at its June 20 meeting the city wanted to delay the reopening 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, Rigsbee 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 reopen 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 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.”
Response times up
Since Station 5 closed at the beginning of 2017, EMS response times near the station are up by about one minute and 15 seconds, data from the fire division shows.
The division is also projected to have over 1,000 more calls this year than 2016, Heimlich said.
That’s meant firefighters and paramedics are overworked during their shifts, Rigsbee said.
“It feels like it’s just nonstop and it takes a toll,” he said.
While the time has increased, the fire division is reaching its goal for response times for EMS calls 80 percent of the time in that area, data shows. The benchmark for the division is 90 percent of the time, Heimlich said.
The partial coverage isn’t enough, Rigsbee said. It’s a safety issue, he said, so it’s worth the extra money.
“If we could schedule emergencies that might work,” he said, “but we can’t necessarily say when an emergency is going to happen.”
Residents near Station 5 are glad to hear it’s reopening.
“To have them reopen that and get here a lot quicker time, that would be a lifesaver for us, literally,” Evelyn Mercer said.
Paramedics saved Gary Saylor’s son’s life, he said. His son was born with a immunodeficiency disease that left him in need of an emergency bone marrow transplant, he said. When the doctor couldn’t reach Saylor by phone, paramedics arrived at his door to tell him of the emergency.
Saylor was in favor of the tax levy, but his trust in city leaders is, “iffy,” he said.
Still, he said he wouldn’t mind a delay in reopening the station.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Things happen, things get changed all the time.”
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