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City council weighs options for fire department during state of emergency due to staffing shortages

COVID, plus retirements, have led to issues
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Posted at 5:22 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 18:27:31-05

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati’s new city council is looking to address a declared emergency, supporting additional funding for a second firefighter recruit class in 2022.

“Firefighting is not a job someone should do under duress, unnecessary duress,” said Councilmember Reggie Harris.

Harris proposed a motion Monday during the city’s budget and finance committee meeting requesting that the city administration provide funding to improve and prioritize staffing for the fire department in 2022 and 2023.

“Staffing should not be a luxury item, it cannot be an 'if we can support it,'” said Matt Alter, president of Local 48. “We are the only department that is sitting here before you today that is under an emergency declaration for staffing shortages."

Former Mayor John Cranley declared an emergency last month after the Omicron variant sidelined dozens of firefighters, causing five fire companies to be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“The situation is improving somewhat,” said Fire Chief Michael Washington.

Washington said COVID, along with retirements and a lack of previous funding for recruit classes has led to the staffing shortage.

The chief and his staff said funding for more recruit classes is vitally important.

“We’re an old department, to be flat out honest with you. We have 312 members over the age of 48. 48 is our retirement age. 312 members. 208 of those members have more than 25 years of service. They can walk out that door tomorrow,” said Assistant Chief Tom Lakamp.

“When a new class comes in, a new class is retiring, so it’s something that’s going to continue to occur,” said Washington.

The chief said a recruit class of 46 members will begin in March. The potential second recruit class would likely begin in November and include 37 members.

Full council will vote on Wednesday to approve the motion.

According to fire officials, the last time the fire department was fully staffed was in January of 2020. Washington said 24 to 30 firefighters are working overtime daily.