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Published: Saturday, 10/16/2010

Ottawa Hills firefighters to merge with Toledo

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In the process, the city is to hire the village's 10 full-time firefighters, whose current base pay total exceeds $569,000, and the city has promised they would make a comparable wage. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said Ottawa Hills firefighters are paid a comparable salary to Toledo's.

The mayors of both communities painted the deal as a plus for Ottawa Hills and Toledo during a news conference Friday at the village's administrative office.

"We live in difficult times today," Ottawa Hills Mayor Kevin Gilmore said. "It's imperative communities, especially here in northwest Ohio, see what we can do to save costs."

Mr. Gilmore said the village's fire department budget is roughly $900,000 a year and that cost will be cut down to the $425,000 fee paid annually to Toledo for the first five years of a 20-year contract with the city.

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, left, and Ottawa Hills Mayor Kevin Gilmore announce an agreement that would fold the village fire department into the city's larger force. City and village councilmen must approve the deal. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, left, and Ottawa Hills Mayor Kevin Gilmore announce an agreement that would fold the village fire department into the city's larger force. City and village councilmen must approve the deal.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The deal is considered tentative because council members from both communities are expected to vote on parts of the plan.

Under the agreement, the city would run the fire station in the village, using the village's facility. It will be staffed by city of Toledo firefighters who will respond to calls in the village and the city.

Ottawa Hills Village Council still must vote to disband its fire department, after which the department will be integrated with Toledo Fire and Rescue by Jan. 1, 2011, according to the plan.

Mr. Gilmore also said the arrangement will reduce the need for Ottawa Hills to invest in costly, new fire equipment, and the village's fire trucks would be purchased by the city for a yet-to-be negotiated price.

Mr. Bell, a former fire chief for the city, said the merger makes sense for both communities.

Mr. Bell said the city would be able to operate fire and rescue services in the village with less cost than the village has, even while maintaining an "equal to or greater than" number of firefighters at the Ottawa Hills station.

The mayor also said that absorbing the village would not affect the city's contractual obligation to keep at least 103 firefighters on duty at all times.

Mr. Bell said Toledo fire trucks often cut through Ottawa Hills while responding to calls. Operating the fire station inside the village could help lower response times for nearby Toledo neighborhoods.

Toledo Safety Director Shirley Green said another benefit for the city will be the immediate infusion of 10 trained firefighters.

"The fire department's current man level is at 486," Ms. Green said. "We plan to have another fire class in the near future, but anytime we can incorporate 10 additional bodies, it is a plus for us and it will also cut down on overtime."

Ms. Green said the Bell administration is examining how it will "redistribute manpower" throughout the city but said the city will stay at the 103 number, even with the added station.

Mayor Bell expects to send proposed legislation to Toledo City Council to consider as the final details of the agreement are worked out.

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mayor Bell's spokesman, added: "We are not seeking reimbursement for all those bodies. We are at a point where we need trained bodies."

Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever said the 10 Ottawa Hills firefighters would be inserted into the Toledo department with the same level of seniority they currently have, which would be used for things such as selecting vacation days.

Wayne Hartford, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said he was shocked to learn early of the plan, but welcomed additional firefighters for the employee-depleted department.

"This is a unique situation and I think there are going to have to be some adjustments to absorb these guys because if we don't absorb them, they are going to be unemployed," he said.

Mr. Hartford said Toledo firefighters would welcome the new city employees, but warned that seniority could become an issue for some.

"That's where its ugly head could be reared - when it comes to picking vacation time and Kelly Days." Firefighters work 24 hours on and then get 48 hours off. They also get what is called a "Kelly Day" every third week, which is a day off.

Ottawa Hills firefighter Rick Rahe, a 10-year veteran of the department, said he was relieved to learn of the plan.

"In the world today, you hear about fire services just closing their doors," Mr. Rahe said.

Ottawa Hills' eight part-time firefighters will not be hired by Toledo. Mr. Gilmore said all of them have other full-time jobs - including two who are full-time Toledo firefighters.

Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, chairman of council's public safety, law, and criminal justice committee, said he plans to hold a meeting on the arrangement because of unanswered questions.

"One of the issues I am going to bring up is what our actual experience will be in terms of cost," Mr. Collins said. "I have serious questions about the financial side of it."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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