The Akron Fire Department is adopting a staffing strategy that fills openings as they happen instead of hiring extra at the start of the year and expecting they'll be needed when employees leave or retire.

Before a day of contract negotiations with the labor union and a budget hearing before city council, Fire Chief Clarence Tucker said the old way created roller coaster staffing levels, with too many employees for the first half of the year, just enough in the middle and not enough at the end.

The policy change, at least on paper, contains labor costs and eliminates eight firefighters and medics. In reality, though, Tucker said there will be months this year with more staffing than he ended with last year.

In 2018, the city’s “budgeted strength” in the fire department, or the ideal number of uniformed staff, was 371. That number was picked knowing that about 20 employees retire or leave the department annually. By Dec. 31, uniformed staffing hit 352 — right on target. Now, Tucker is hoping to operate at the average instead of a high followed by a low.

This year, he plans to maintain an even 363 uniformed personnel. A current hiring push will get him to that number. Instead of going over, though, Tucker will fill vacancies almost instantly with a “cache of people” who have already gone through the training, passed the requisite tests and are basically “on the waiting list” for a job offer.

“We think this is a more responsible way to do manpower,” Tucker said. “It keeps us more consistent.” And consistency, Tucker added, is key when scheduling firehouse crews around the clock.

Leadership in Local 330, which represents union fire employees, was not available Tuesday to comment on the new staffing plan, which drops “budgeted strength” from 371 to 363 but never lets it get as low as 352.

The 2019 operating budget submitted this week by Mayor Dan Horrigan indicates that the new staffing strategy should contain labor costs in the fire department. Even with an across-the-board wage increase budgeted at 2 percent, labor expenses for the entire fire department are expected to climb only 0.3 percent, from $29,175,290 last year to $29,276,850 this year.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.