Tuesday, October 17, 2000

City struggles with safety budget

Police, fire, medical units seek additional staff, expenditures

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Last week's triple-fatal fire heightened firefighter/paramedics' frustration with a troubling situation: a growing number of medic runs without additional equipment and personnel to handle the extra workload.

        At the same time, the city's police union is expressing a critical need to fill vacancies and get new officers trained — pronto.

        While acknowledging that the city faces a budget crunch following the recent exodus of major employers — Ohio Casualty Group and International Paper — police and fire leaders are urging city leaders to find some way to fill the gaps.

        Councilman Richard Holzberger said he agrees the safety forces' concerns appear to be legitimate. “We haven't said we don't want it, we just have to figure out how we can pay for it,” he said. “Our hands are tied until we can see how to restructure the budget.”

        Brian Robinson, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, wrote a letter urging council to act right away — and he said there is a way to do it at minimal cost.

        The D. Russel Lee Training Academy has agreed to allow two new officers to undergo training for the price of one, in exchange for the department's providing instructors and allowing the academy to use the police department's firing range.

        If the city does not act quickly enough so new officers can begin training in the Oct. 30 class, the next available training will not begin until spring. That would mean those officers could not complete training and be ready for street duty until sometime in 2002, Mr. Robinson's letter said.

        As of Oct. 6, the department was six officers and one dispatcher below authorized strength — and several retirements are anticipated in January.

        In the meantime, firefighters fear a repeat of Wednesday's situation.

        As firefighters and paramedics attended to the Pater Avenue fire that killed three, an additional call came for a person suffering a seizure — and that tied up all four of the city's medic units. Two of the medic units are reserve units that must be driven by personnel who normally run fire engines. As a result, “there was a time when we had zero fire protection and zero life squad protection for this town,” said Fire Lt. Ray Smith, vice president of the local firefighters union.

        Then, about two weeks ago, a man with broken ribs waited 38 minutes for help to arrive — and it had to come from a neighboring fire department, Lt. Smith said.

        Earnest Winston contributed to this report.


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