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Toledo union chief questions merger of fire departments

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Wayne Hartford

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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The head of the union representing Toledo firefighters said he will oppose a plan to merge the Ottawa Hills Fire Department into the city's until the Bell administration starts answering questions about how the village's 10 fire employees would be absorbed.

Wayne Hartford, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, who was not made aware of the months-long discussions between the two communities before the announcement Oct. 15, said a lot of unanswered questions exist, and the mayor's staff isn't offering answers.

"We are trying to control it so none of our Local 92 members are harmed by bringing these guys on," Mr. Hartford said. "There is a whole gamut of things we have to tear apart the contract with."

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 now have, which would be used for such matters as selecting vacation days. That, along with promotions that follow seniority, has been a problem for some Toledo firefighters.

The base pay of the village's 10 full-time firefighters exceeds $569,000, and the city has promised they would make a comparable wage. A spokesman for Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said adding those 10 firefighters to the Toledo work force could save the city $845,939 in overtime costs next year.

A small minority of Ottawa Hills residents also have objected to merging their fire department with the city of Toledo's, while most people support the plan that will save the small community $475,000 a year, village Mayor Kevin Gilmore said.

"We are hearing some concerns with not having our own firemen and getting in bed with Toledo and its financial woes," he said.

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Mr. Gilmore announced the plan for the village to pay the city $425,000 a year to take over its fire and rescue services. Mr. Gilmore said the village fire department budget is roughly $900,000 a year. That cost will be reduced to the fee paid annually to Toledo for the first five years of a 20-year contract with the city.

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.

Mr. Gilmore said the Ottawa Hills council could vote Nov. 15 to disband its fire department, after which the department will be integrated with Toledo Fire and Rescue by Jan. 1, according to the plan. A purchase price for the village's fire equipment hasn't been negotiated, he said.

D. Michael Collins, chairman of Toledo council's public safety, law, and criminal justice committee, has asked Mayor Bell for assurances that none of the existing 17 city fire houses will be closed after the Ottawa Hills station is incorporated into the city department.

Mr. Bell would not give him that assurance.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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