Olentangy Valley News

Liberty adapting to reduced staff levels

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One year ago, the Liberty Township Fire Department employed seven individuals on its administrative staff.

Today just two of those positions remain.

In addition to Fire Chief Tim Jensen, the fire department previously employed an assistant chief, two captains and three fire prevention officers.

But drastic cuts were made after voters rejected a levy on the November ballot. Ten fire department employees who retired or resigned won't be replaced -- a reduction of 20 percent overall.

Now the administrative staff consists of Jensen and one fire prevention officer.

Two vacant fire prevention positions won't be filled, and the other management positions have been consolidated. The assistant fire chief and captains now ride on fire and EMS runs as shift managers.

On March 21 the fire department instated the latest version of its leaner staffing plan.

"We're drawing back to the core of what we do, which is taking 911 calls," Jensen said.

It's part of an ongoing effort for the department to reimagine its staffing model under tight new budget restrictions.

Voters did approve an emergency levy on the ballot in February, allowing the fire department to continue to operate on a $7 million annual budget. But it's a far cry from the original levy request, which would have generated $8.46 million.

Fire officials were banking on the new revenue to avoid cuts since the township's population has undergone explosive growth in the past decade.

But since the first levy was voted down, Jensen said the fire department is making due.

Previously the department staffed 15 firefighter-paramedics each shift, with minimum staffing levels set at 12.

Now 13 employees are scheduled for each shift. And due to vacations, sick leave and other absences as few as 10 firefighters are working on a typical day, Jensen said.

That will impact how the department responds to emergencies, he said.

Previously the department could deploy four fire or EMS vehicles at once between its two fire stations. Now it will only have the staff to man three vehicles on most days.

EMS responses could also suffer, Jensen said. The fire department aims to send three paramedics along for situations when advanced life support is needed, allowing two employees to care for a patient while one drives.

Jensen said his department will do its best to ensure three paramedics respond to serious medical emergencies, but it may not always be possible.

"We're adapting, but there are days when the EMS vehicle, primarily out of the Sawmill station, will have just two people," he said.

Overall, peripheral activities such as community fire education events won't necessarily be eliminated, but they will be scaled back.

A plan to make fire hydrants more numerous and accessible around the community has been mostly tabled, though Jensen said the fire department could work with residents to secure funding to have a water line and hydrant installed near their property. That could help lower homeowner insurance costs, he said.

The township also has turned to other agencies to keep some programs running, like the special needs registry that helps the fire department tailor emergency responses for residents who suffer from certain medical conditions.

One program has been canceled outright. Last fall the township hired a service coordinator who would have worked to respond to the needs of local seniors.

The program would have been funded by the Council for Older Adults of Delaware County, but it was shelved because the fire department no longer has the staff to manage and oversee the program.

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