Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Callups thin police, fire departments

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Concern is rising over how emergency services such as police and fire departments will be able to keep up with the demand as more of their members are called up from the military reserves - much like it did during the last major military build-up in the Middle East.

But as one national expert points out, there wasn't too much concern about violence at home during the Gulf War.

"Now, after Sept. 11, that's something we have to make sure that we keep in mind," said Randy Bruegman, the fire chief of District One in Clackamas County, Ore., and president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. "We are so focused on what is happening internationally that I'm afraid there could be very little thought process put into ... homeland security and what could happen inside the boundaries of the U.S."

Of the approximately 1.2 million volunteer and full-time firemen in the U.S., Bruegman estimates that 75,000 could be called up to active duty if the U.S. goes to war against Iraq.

He also anticipates the impact will be worst on smaller fire and police departments, because they will have a harder time covering for absent reservists and National Guard members.

The Cincinnati Police Department lost four officers from night shifts in District 1 alone.

The Enquirer recently asked Tristate public safety agencies about the possible impact of a massive call-up. Cincinnati police officials said they don't yet know how they'll deal with the shortages in District 1, which includes downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

Other agencies said they do not anticipate service shortfalls, although many said they would be using overtime and other means to cover shifts.

The Cincinnati Fire Department, for example, already has four of its 816 members on active duty and another 17 could be called up. District Chief Steve Prather said that the department is expecting to have to use some overtime, but unless one particular unit is hit hard, he doesn't expect the impact to be that great.

"It will never be a safety issue, just one about spending more money," Prather said.

Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Crockett also is facing such issues, after one of his assistants had his one-year deployment extended late last year for another 6 months.

Ruey Newsom, a captain in the Army Reserve, was called up in November 2001, his deployment was extended for another six months and Newsom was sent to Kuwait.

This has caused a burden for Crockett, who lost nearly a quarter of his staff when Newsom left in 2001.

"You can't get an experienced full-time lawyer for a six-month job," Crockett said. "No one is going to leave a practice for six months. And it would take six months to train someone who just passed the bar."

Crockett eventually hired three law students from Northern Kentucky University to handle the office paperwork for six months.

Employees being called to active duty also have depleted the workforce at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. Nine reservists or Guardsmen work in the county jail.

"It does have an impact because we always seem to be a little short in corrections officers. It means we're going to be working more overtime," department spokesman Steve Barnett said.

Enquirer reporters Jim Hannah, Erica Solvig, David Eck and Jane Prendergast contributed. E-mail jpilcher@enquirer.com

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