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40 Toledo trainee firefighters start class on Jan. 8

Despite starting the new year with an estimated $40 million deficit, the city of Toledo plans to have a class of 40 new firefighters report for training Jan. 8.

The additional firefighters will cost nearly $2.6 million in 2010, but officials say the city would be looking at an overtime bill of more than $7 million next year without the new recruits.

"It's cheaper to hire firefighters than not to, so what we're doing is what we consider logical and by doing that we'll be reducing overtime," Mayor-elect Mike Bell said yesterday.

Under its contract with the firefighters' union, the city must have at least 103 firefighters on duty at all times. When the number falls below 103 because of vacations or sick leave, the fire division must call in workers on overtime.

City Councilman D. Michael Collins said Toledo racked up more than $4 million in overtime costs for the fire division in 2009 because it did not bring a fire class on last year.

"This is cost effective," Mr. Collins said. "We're filling the ranks of the fire division in order to be able to save on the overtime. The savings on the overtime will be such that it will pay for the class."

The fire division, which has an authorized strength of 525, has 462 firefighters, according to Assistant Fire Chief Luis Santiago.

Mr. Collins estimates overtime for firefighters could go as high as $7.3 million in 2010 if the city does not increase the fire division's ranks.

Adding to the personnel situation is the growing number of retirements within the division.

Mr. Collins said he'd like to see a second class of 30 recruits hired later in the year.

"The hiring of this class and another class of 30 before the year's out will bring us back down to the area of $750,000 to $1 million in overtime for 2010," he said.

City Finance Director John Sherburne said the class of 40 new firefighters will cost $2.59 million in 2010.

Assistant Chief Santiago said 32 of the 40 recruits have met the fire division's physical agility and medical requirements, while the remaining eight are expected to be cleared early next week.

Recruits will undergo six to 16 weeks of firefighter and emergency medical technician training, depending on their prior experience.

Assistant Chief Santiago said the city has not had a fire class since 2006, and its firefighters are aging.

"We only have five members in our department who are in their 20s. That's very uncommon," he said. "There are only 78 firefighters under the age of 30."

Assistant Chief Santiago said the fire division responded to more than 50,000 calls for service in 2009, which among 17 fire stations, meant they were very busy.

"I think [the fire class] is good news for the department and for the city," Assistant Chief Santiago said. "We've had a lot of firefighters working a lot of hours. There's some fatigue going on."

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