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Cincinnati Fire Department seeks money for recruit class to bolster numbers affected by COVID, retirement

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Posted at 11:11 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 23:27:57-05

CINCINNATI — In a presentation to Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, Chief Roy Winston said the Cincinnati Fire Department is down nearly 50 firefighters and is looking for funding to recruit more.

The department typically brings in a new class of nearly 40 firefighters every year – but in 2020, due to issues with the city’s budget, that didn’t happen. That, coupled with retirements, has caused the shortfall.

“When you miss out on even having one recruit class or in this case go more than one year without having one recruit class, things back up,” said Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48 president Matt Alter said.

In the case of the Fire Department, that means no new firefighters coming in the door and plenty going out as once-large recruitment classes reach retirement age.

“There are a huge number of firefighters that could retire at any point,” Alter said. “They have their 25 years of service and they could retire at any point.”

Another reason the department is seeing shortages during certain shifts is because of COVID-19.

“The department has a little over 800 employees, but approximately 222 contracted the virus,” Cincinnati Fire Chief Roy Winston said. “Throughout this last year, we’ve been dealing with the staffing shortages.”

That leads to more overtime, which – along with PPE and overall rising costs – has put a strain on the budget and the firefighters themselves.

“There is a fatigue factor that comes into play,” Alter said. “You can only work 48 hours straight.”

Winston said while firefighters are being worked harder the average citizen shouldn’t see an impact on emergency response times. He said he believes with a class of new recruits added in, service will stay afloat.

“Cincinnati’s no different than any other city in terms of the financial impact of whether it’s been COVID or other things and so while we’d like to see more, we still have to work within those confines,” Winton said.

Councilmembers Sundermann and Keating plan on introducing a motion to prioritize the recruitment class in the next budget – which will be taken up in later discussions.