Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb said his department has responded well to recent staff reductions.

Archived Story

Firefighters adjust to staff cuts

Published 4:58pm Sunday, February 5, 2012

The City of Niles Fire Department is showing its resourcefulness in light of recent staffing cuts.
The department was unable to replace a retiring firefighter last year due to city budget cuts and lost its fire marshall in 2008. There are now 12 full-time firefighters and 19 volunteers.
“We’ve all picked up the slack,” said nine-year Fire Chief Larry Lamb.
Due to the cutbacks, Lamb has gone from shifts of four firefighters to three-man shifts. There are three shifts of three with two swing officers who can fill in at any time.
“When we lost that position, the only way we could do it is to have swing guys,” he said.
While Lamb said the transition is going smoothly, it can limit the number of bodies immediately on scene of a fire. One staffer is usually doing building inspections or training, while two stay at the station. In the previous system, there would typically be three officers at the station at the ready in case of an emergency.
“When we only have two firefighters at the station, we can only send one guy to a medical call instead of two,” Lamb said. “So there is an impact for less staffing. But everyone at the city is dealing with this.”
Lamb is right. The police department lost its police captain position when former chief Ric Huff was promoted to city administrator and Jim Millin took over as chief in October. The department also didn’t replace ex-cop Ivery Cross, who is serving a prison term for sexually assaulting an inmate.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works is down to 10 employees from 14 a decade ago. When Joe Ray was promoted to public works director in October, his assistant position wasn’t filled.
But Lamb says staffing reductions affect fire departments in a unique way. While some departments can plan to reduce staffing based on times they aren’t as busy, the times for fires are unpredictable.
“Our world is a lot different based on the nature of what we do,” he said.
While response times haven’t decreased since the switch to three-man shifts, Lamb said, if the shifts were further reduced to two, “the speed would be affected.”
A partnership with the Niles Township Fire Department — both departments respond to any fire in the city or township — and the help of volunteer firefighters have helped the department stay strong despite recent cuts, Lamb said.
“We have 19 volunteers. We like to have about 25. We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said.

More than house fires
What many Niles residents don’t know is Niles firefighters don’t just respond to building fires. They are responsible for code enforcement and are trained as EMTs (emergency medical technicians). Some of the firefighters also are trained in rescue services and hazardous material operations.
“There’s a ton that we do,” Lamb said.
The department conducts frequent building inspections and completes 1,000 hours a year in fire education programs to aid in fire prevention.
“It (building inspections) also familiarizes our firefighters with the buildings in the area, so if there is a fire, they know the structure,” Lamb said.
Lamb is also proud that his department has maintained a strong Insurance Service Office rating, which affects homeowner insurance rates. The rating system is on a 10-point scale with 10 being the worst and 1 the best, based on fire safety equipment, training of staff and water access. Niles is a 4, the top rating in the county.

Important work
In addition to protecting lives, one of the main goals for the fire department is to protect the city from losing buildings to fires.
“When we lose one building, we lose that tax base forever,” Lamb said. “And no one is building new buildings in Niles. So it’s hugely important to protect the structures in the city.”
And while some city departments are looking for ways that technology can help eliminate staffing, that’s not possible for fire departments.
“Until they get robots that can fight fires, that won’t work,” Lamb said.
Huff has said, if the state unexpectedly restores some of the revenue-sharing reductions made the past several years to municipalities,  he would recommend to the council to increase funding for public safety.

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City of Niles Fire Department call volume

2006
Working structural fires — 45
False alarms/good intent calls — 111
Vehicle fires — 10
Vegetation fires — 3
EMS response calls — 451
Vehicle accidents without extrications — 24
Vehicle extrications — 48
Other rescue — 4
Hazardous materials — 66
Service calls — 91
Other calls — 30
Total — 883

2007
Working structural fires — 43
False alarms/good intent calls — 108
Vehicle fires — 10
Vegetation fires — 3
EMS response calls — 537
Vehicle accidents without extrications — 22
Vehicle extrications — 4
Other rescue — 4
Hazardous materials — 93
Service calls — 86
Other calls — 40
Total — 950

2008
Working structural fires — 63
False alarms/good intent calls — 73
Vehicle fires — 9
Vegetation fires — 4
EMS response calls — 661
Vehicle accidents without extrications — 48
Vehicle extrications — 10
Other rescue — 6
Hazardous materials — 83
Service calls — 103
Other calls — 74
Total — 1134

2009
Working structural fires — 55
False alarms/good intent calls — 176
Vehicle fires — 9
Vegetation fires — 4
EMS response calls — 663
Vehicle accidents without extrications — 37
Vehicle extrications — 5
Other rescue — 4
Hazardous materials — 57
Service calls — 132
Other calls — 6
Total — 1148

2010
Working structural fires — 59
False alarms/good intent calls — 158
Vehicle fires — 8
Vegetation fires — 9
EMS response calls — 575
Vehicle accidents without extrications — 43
Vehicle extrications — 2
Other rescue — 5
Hazardous materials — 64
Service calls — 142
Other calls — 9
Total — 1074

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  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/kbtonkin Kevin Tonkin

    HAS THE TIME COME YET FOR THE CITY AND TOWNSHIP TO JOIN FORCES?

  • Dave Fisher

    Two school systems, three police depts., and two fire. What a metropolis! How many people combined in Twp. and city?

    Hatfields and McCoys………….

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/kbtonkin Kevin Tonkin

    Amen Vern! I advocated consolidation since I ran for Brandywine School Board in the early 90′s and continued as I campaigned for township supervisor. And we have the same Hatfield and McCoy situation between north and south county. The closer the government the better so consolidate locals like Niles and Niles Township and eliminate the county.

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