By Melanie Yingst
June 3, 2014
TROY — An emotional crowd gathered at Monday’s Troy City Council meeting as Troy Fire Department members and several residents spoke against the proposed salary ordinance to hire two part-time personnel.
The salary ordinance will have a second reading at council’s next meeting. Council member Tom Kendall proposed to move the ordinance to have a second reading to allow council members Robin Oda and Bobby Phillips to vote on the ordinance. Oda and Phillips were not in attendance on Monday.
The current ordinance to hire two part-time firefighters/EMT/paramedics proposal was pared down from Troy Fire Department’s Chief Chris Boehringer’s original proposed 24 part-time firefighters and EMTs in April.
On May 29, Chief Boehringer made a presentation to recommend that only two such part-time positions should be filled at this time so that there could be a determination of how well having the part-time staff works, and that additional part-time positions could be considered for 2015.
The proposal seeks to pay a part-time firefighter/EMT $13 an hour and part-time firefighter/paramedic $14 an hour.
The original proposal called for 24 part-time firefighters/EMTs at a cost of an estimated $510,000 per year. Troy Fire Department has three full-time positions unfilled since 2008 through attrition due to budget cuts.
In his presentation on May 29, Boehringer stated that he “did not, nor will I, support any recommendation that would reduce the number of full-time paramedics in our department.”
“I believe that having two paramedics on each ambulance run is imperative and my recommendations reflect that,” he said on May 29. “The eight minimum staff that we have now, made up of full-time paramedics, would continue, even if a full-time calls off sick, is on vacation or is otherwise unable to fill his shift.”
Boehringer assured council that the screening process will be rigorous, thorough and will follow the best practices of other fire departments that use part-time staff.
“I would propose we start with two part-time employees (to add a part-time presence to one of the three shifts), create the procedures with union participation, evaluate the process and then gradually add four more part-time to cover all shifts with one,” his presentation stated on May 29. “Finally, in 2015 we could completely phase in part-time to add to our full-time — again, not substituted for or replace them.”
Chief Boehringer said to “entice the most qualified part-time staff, he requested to add a ‘part-time firefighter/EMT’ wage of $13, but also add a ‘part-time fire-fighter/paramedic’ wage of $14.”
“Compared to other agencies using part-time, our rates would be very competitive and could result in more part-time paramedics being recruited,” he said. “That would only enhance further the level of service we already provide.”
Chief Boehringer was in attendance at the meeting, but did not make any public comments.
Troy residents speak against part-time firefighters
Several Troy residents spoke out against the move to add part-time firefighters to the Troy Fire Department.
No one from the public spoke in favor.
Troy resident Richard Burns spoke before the ordinance reading and again after the ordinance was moved to a second reading.
Burns currently serves on the board of zoning and appeals for the city of Troy. He also served as a city councilman for three terms.
“As many of you know, I was not a part-time councilman,” Burns said of his six years of service as a council member.
Burns noted his time as councilman that he worked with various chiefs and employees of the city. Burns said he found his work on council as “fascinating” in both “mechanically and the human element.”
“Needless to say, I certainly am immensely aware of the many financial constraints imposed on the city especially as my two terms as finance chairman,” Burns said.
Burns said he respects Chief Boehringer’s statements that two paramedics on each ambulance runs are “imperative.”
Burns became emotional as he recounted his wife of almost 60 years, Beverly, and her illness. Burns shared his experience when he made several emergency calls to Troy Fire Department before her passing.
“My wife of almost 60 years was transported to (Upper Valley Medical Center) on at least four emergency occasions,” he said. “Knowing that two trained professional paramedics — not EMTs — were welcome and always arrived, were an absolute comfort.”
Burns noted his 86 years of experience, including the U.S. Army and in the business sector, “that once the bar is lowered, however slightly, is a wedge that could more easily be driven for deeper change.”
Burns said with a move to part-time in the fire department, that the move to cut full-time could be used to “all levels of the city.”
“What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander,” Burns said before he ended his comments due to the two-minute time limit.
Burns returned to the podium during the open citizen comments and said he hoped that no one would ever experience losing a loved one in the manner he did.
“I’m telling you the joy of knowing that when those paramedics came to take Beverly to the hospital, is the biggest joy that you’ll ever know,” Burns said. “Now, is there a difference between an EMT and a paramedic? Yes. Yes there is. And those guys were great. Absolutely fantastic. I just want you to think about that. Let’s keep the paramedics.”
Burns said he understand the position Chief Boehringer’s position in the proposal.
“But I’m just telling you, the joy of knowing that under the care of guys are going to do the best they can, I’m just telling you it’s a joy that you don’t know,” Burns said. “If you are going to start cutting costs guys, I’m telling you, start at the top and work your way down. We did it when I was on council and it can be done again.”
Burns said again that he personally felt the joy of knowing that his loved one received the best care possible until they got to the emergency room.
“I’ve been through it. I’ve been through it, up and down,” he said. “But, if we are going to start cutting costs guys, girls, men and women, start right at the top. Thank you.”