Sunday, April 29, 2001

Fire panel looking into departures

Mason department down by half, group claims

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — City council's ad hoc fire committee has scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday to discuss concerns residents have about the declining number of employees in the fire department.

        “We know that there are persons who have complaints and/orare dissatisfied,” Councilwoman Betty Davis said. “We want to provide people a forum to express any concerns that they have.”

        Ms. Davis, a member of the committee, said the meeting will be part of a fact-gathering process. The three-member committee will report its findings to city council.

New chief criticized
        The emergency meeting was called after a handful of residents criticized city council and newly appointed fire Chief H. Michael Drumm at a meeting last week about the dwindling staff in the fire department.

        “When I see (the fire department) being ruined, it just about kills me,” Cay Steinhauer said. “When you lose half of your people, there's something wrong.”

        Bob Sies, spokesman for the Coalition of Mason Taxpayers, said the number of full-time and part-time personnel in the fire department has dropped below 50 from 100 about a year ago.

Council misled?

        Mr. Sies, a former part-time firefighter who resigned in March for personal reasons, also said City Manager Scot Lahrmer misled council about the qualifications of Chief Drumm. For example, Mr. Sies said, Chief Drumm supervised fewer employees as fire chief in Markham, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and was partly responsible for privatizing Markham's emergency medical services.

        Mr. Lahrmer denied misleading anyone when he hired Chief Drumm, and said Markham city council voted against Chief Drumm's wishes to privatize the EMS services.

Numbers disputed
        Chief Drumm, who was unavailable for comment, was hired two months ago to replace Billy Goldfeder, who resigned in October. As a result, the coalition, which has about 50 members, has called for city council to fire Mr. Lahrmer and Chief Drumm.

        Mr. Lahrmer disputes the group's numbers, saying there are actually 74 employees in the fire department. He said firefighters have left for both professional and personal reasons. He described Mr. Goldfeder's resignation as a “tumultuous time,” which may have caused some firefighters to leave.

        Further, the city manager said the dwindling number of firefighters has not compromised the city's ability to respond to emergencies. Mr. Lahrmer said a considerable amount of overtime has been paid to compensate for the shortage of firefighters. The average response time is 4 minutes, 30 seconds; a year ago, it was 4 minutes, 20 seconds.

        Ms. Davis, who has requested a current roster and one from six months ago from the fire department, knows some firefighters have left to take jobs elsewhere. But, she said, “I want to know if there are people who are leaving for other reasons, and to verify the numbers.”

        The 7 p.m. meeting will be held in council chambers at City Hall, 202 W. Main Street.


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