Oregon approves contract with firefighters association

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Oregon City Council approved a contract with the Oregon Part-Time Firefighters Association on Monday.  The negotiations lasted several months.
        The previous collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Part-Time Firefighters Associate expired on June 30, 2020.
         “For some time, we’ve been working with our fire command, with council, and our Part-Time Firefighters Association to change the way we operate the department,” said City Administrator Mike Beazley. “A big part of that change is a new fire station, but also changes in our collective bargaining.”
        The change in the contract “does several important things,” said Beazley.
        “The most important thing it does is it changes us from a primarily toned-out based response for emergencies to a scheduled firefighters’ response to emergencies for both fires and ambulance runs. That’s a big change for Oregon,” he said.
        “We talked about this for a long time,” he continued. “We are a community that held on to our traditional system longer than anyone else. As far as we know, we’re the largest community in Ohio that held onto that traditional system. We did it as long as we could. We all concluded – council, administration, mayor, fire command and Part-Time Firefighters Association – that we needed to get together and have a different system. We will use scheduled firefighters, but tone-out will not be an important part of our response. They are still necessary on occasion for fires and will still be part of our response, but it will not be the normal, everyday approach to what we do.”
New approach
        The city will be increasing the number of full-time firefighters and creating supervisors within the full-time unit, he said.
         “We are going to be creating a new Basic Life Support component to the full-time unit. In addition, we’re going to have our traditional ambulance ECHO unit,” he said.
        The new approach “is an important step we’ve all looked towards,” said Beazley.
        “It took us a while to get through the collective bargaining agreement, but it achieves those objectives going forward,” he said. “I’m excited for the work the chiefs have done. They really worked hard getting this done, and the association worked hard getting this done. It’s nice to have achieved this through consensus and at the bargaining table rather than through another type of conflict resolution. It’s a good statement for Oregon and the department. It’s exciting for all of us to turn that corner together. It’s an important step.”
        In a memo to council last August, Beazley noted the difficulty maintaining the traditional system.
        On too many occasions, he stated, paid part-time on-call firefighters have not been available when needed to meet urgent safety needs. In 2019, there were 524 occasions when the on-call firefighters were toned out to meet an emergency need and no one or only one firefighter turned up to the station. The department was forced to tone out a second station and sometimes a third with significant delays in response time to meet the needs of residents.
        “Sometimes, even with all three stations toned out, we still could not run equipment to meet our emergency. We do not believe this risk is acceptable for the people of Oregon and so we must adapt just as every other community like ours has already done.”
Reduced staff
        For many years, Oregon maintained a paid on-call part-time fire department of over 90 members, explained Beazley. That number has gone down.
        “Our current paid on-call part-time fire unit has a staffing of 64 participating members. The department has consistently faced a challenge with the currently enrolled part-time firefighters meeting the basic attendance requirements set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. Even at the highest paid rates in this region we have been unable to maintain that historical level of participation. It is important to emphasize that this is not a unique problem to Oregon. We have worked to recruit new part-time firefighters, but unfortunately have not been sufficiently successful. In fact, Oregon taxpayers have spent over $100,000 in recent years to train new part-time recruits who never completed their training program. Other communities have faced the same problems and were forced to change to provide public safety.”
        In addition to delayed medical responses, on two occasions in recent years, Oregon could not get sufficient response time from the fire department to battle house fires, stated Beazley.
        “At least twice it took us over 16 minutes to begin to put water on a fire. This is not acceptable to our residents and businesses when lives and property are at risk.”
        The changing demands of family life, work schedules and service demands have made it more difficult each year for Oregon to meet the needs of residents with its current system.
        “It’s been a long time coming,” Fire Chief Dennis Hartman said on Monday of the new changes. “It is needed. For example, Station Number 42 had 1,880 runs last year. That’s six per day. That’s just too much to ask of volunteers. We’ve seen a steady decline in response times, but when you start adding up those kinds of figures, it’s time to make the change. The union understood that. Change is difficult. And big change is very difficult. The tradition is strong here. The pride in the department is strong. And we’re going to do our very best to continue with that tradition and continue to have everybody involved - but just on a new path. We’re very excited to get this done and to get working on our new system.”
        The agreement covers the period from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2023.


The Press

The Press
1550 Woodville Road
Millbury, OH 43447

(419) 836-2221

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Ohio News Media Association