Kirtland officials discuss fire department staffing, state grant

Nov. 19—Kirtland officials are set to hold a second meeting to discuss fire department staffing and a state grant that would fund up to three full-time firefighters for two years as well as the potential long-term financial implications of accepting the grant.

Members of Kirtland's City Council and administration gathered before the Nov. 9 council meeting to hear from Fire Chief Anthony Hutton and Finance Director Louis Slapnicker about a state grant the fire department was recently awarded. The group is set to meet again on Nov. 21, ahead of a council meeting that will include a third reading for a resolution on whether or not to accept the grant.

As previously reported by The News-Herald, Hutton informed council at its Oct. 3 meeting that the department had been awarded a $589,060.17 grant from the Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention and Resilience program. He noted at the time that the grant would cover nearly all of the costs for three new full-time firefighters, with a few exceptions, between Jan. 1, 2023 and Dec. 31, 2024.

At the Nov. 9 meeting, Hutton described part-time staffing concerns within the department, including fewer graduates of training institutions and part-time firefighter applicants, an increase in unfilled shifts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in overtime shifts. Additionally, he noted that part-time employees may work full time in other departments, which can require them to reduce their hours working for Kirtland.

He also said that there has been an increase in call volume, with the department expecting nearly 1,300 calls in 2022, while staffing has not increased since the mid-1990s.

According to Hutton, frequent minimum staffing can impact quality of service. Additionally, high numbers of overtime hours may cause burnout for full-time employees.

While the department currently works to staff three full-time firefighters and two part-time firefighters for each 24-hour shift, he noted that with the grant, the department will make that four full-time firefighters and one part-time firefighter at each shift.

Slapnicker provided an analysis of the estimated costs of the grant, since it would only cover the additional full-time firefighters for two years. Taking into account a decrease in payments for part-time firefighters, he noted that finances would need to come from the city's general fund over a 10-year period as the department's current property taxes would not cover the entire cost increase.

He added in an email with The News-Herald that Mayor Kevin Potter asked him to look for options to offset potential long-term costs from the increase in full-time firefighters.

Council will next discuss the grant at 6 p.m. on Nov. 21, before the start of the 7 p.m. council meeting where the resolution to accept the grant will be brought to a third reading. Both meetings will occur at Kirtland City Hall, 9301 Chillicothe Road.