YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The president of the union representing Youngstown firefighters said he was surprised to learn the city plans to close a fire station and eliminate three battalion chiefs through attrition.
Charlie Smith, who is also a battalion chief, said the plans were revealed in a Tuesday morning meeting with Youngstown City Law Director Jeff Limbian.
Although the city asked for the meeting last week, Smith said the city would not reveal an agenda, so he was shocked to learn that Station 7, at Madison Avenue and Elm Street, would be closed.
Smith said the station, which is right next to Youngstown State University and just a few blocks from St. Elizabeth Health Center, is the busiest in the city and its closing would hurt response times not only on the north side but across the city.
Because of its close proximity to the Madison Avenue Expressway, Station 7 answers most calls in the city, Smith said.
“No matter what, when you lose an apparatus, stuff is affected. Your response time is affected, manpower to the fire is affected,” Smith said.
Limbian said the changes in the fire department are some of the ways the city is trying to rein in its budget during trying economic times. He said there may be more changes in the fire department but would not elaborate on what they were.
“I’m not going to lie, they should be worried with this administration and its decisions they’re making with this fire department,” Smith said.
Limbian said Chief Barry Finley has identified several ways the department can cut back.
“We’ll see other cutbacks in the future in the fire department,” Limbian said.
Other than Station 1 downtown on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there is no other fire station on the north side except Station 7.
Limbian said the reason the city decided to close the station is because of the building itself, which is over 100 years old. Limbian said it is “antiquated” and the floor cannot support the weight of the truck.
After several meetings it was determined that other stations can cover Engine 7’s coverage area, Limbian said.
“No matter what, we will be there to do our job, but the likelihood of us being able to do our job with less resources the same way we were able to with more resources than we were before, isn’t going to be the case,” Smith said.
The truck at Station 7 will be housed at the main fire station, Station 1, downtown. No firefighters are expected to lose their jobs because of the closing, Smith said.
No word has been given yet on when the station will be closed except that it would be some time before the lease expires on Jan. 6.
The city was originally expected to eliminate two battalion chief positions but is now eliminating three. Smith said the position is crucial because, at a fire, one chief is in overall command while another watches for any safety issues.
“Last month, the fire chief stated that it wasn’t safe to do and in reversal, the mayor said as part of his restructuring of the fire department is going to get rid of three battalion chiefs,” Smith said.
Other firefighters cannot do those jobs because they do not have the proper training, Smith said.
Smith said he is especially puzzled because Finley recommended that no more than two of the chiefs be eliminated. But Limbian said the administration has been reassured repeatedly by Finley that the city can go down to three battalion chiefs and still be safe.
One position will be eliminated within a month when Battalion Chief Gary Ditullio retires. The second will be eliminated within a year when another chief retires, Smith said.
Smith said the morale among rank and firefighters is low, saying he doesn’t feel the firefighters were given an adequate reason for the cuts.
“We don’t feel that we’re being appreciated for the job that we do for the citizens. We’re not being properly taken care of by management to do the jobs that we need to do,” Smith said.
He said they have agreed to try and help the city through its financial woes but Smith said the city has disrespected them by refusing to work with them.
Smith reassures that no matter what, they will do whatever they can to keep residents safe.
“We are firefighters. We are here to do everything we can but we need management’s support to do that,” he said.
WKBN’s Stan Boney toured the fire station in 2010. You can watch that story above.