Tax Hike $$$, Part 1

Fire Dept. to use funding for 12 new firefighters

— Part 1 of 2 —

By LARRY C. BOWERS Staff Writer
Posted 9/9/17

Cleveland City Manager Joe Fivas and municipal staff members are appreciative of the support of the City Council, and the community, regarding their attempts to reach out for an improvement of city …

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Tax Hike $$$, Part 1

Fire Dept. to use funding for 12 new firefighters

— Part 1 of 2 —

Posted

Cleveland City Manager Joe Fivas and municipal staff members are appreciative of the support of the City Council, and the community, regarding their attempts to reach out for an improvement of city services.

This support was emphasized recently with an impacting tax increase approved by the Council, and a wish-list budget which will provide the residents of Cleveland with a number of upgrades and improvements — in services and programs.

Among those upgrades are substantial increases in fire and police department personnel, which was earmarked in a previous study and consultation contracted by the council.

Former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director and Athens native Larry Wallace compiled the study, which recommended improvements (and added personnel) for both departments.

It is hoped additional funding from the property tax increase will improve the city’s two public service (safety) departments to be among the best in the region and state, if not the nation, according to city leaders.

Fivas, Fire Chief Ron Harrison and Police Chief Mark Gibson met with the Cleveland Daily Banner to discuss the changes and designated improvements for both departments.

Each department will add 12 new employees over the next two years, at a cost of around $1 million, but the process of the upgrades will be slightly different. Both will use established applicant pools, but will be searching for some differences in talent.

Today’s installment in the Banner’s two-part series on planned changes will feature the fire department.

Harrison and Fivas agree the additional 12 employees and funding needed is greatly impacted by the city’s new Fire Station No. 6, which is currently being constructed on Westland Drive in South Cleveland. This station will service the South Cleveland area, as well as the new Spring Branch Industrial Park.

The fire department has 93 employees, and with the additions over the next two years will go to around 103. This will be on the level of other similarly-sized fire departments.

The city’s fire chief emphasized the mindset of adding to fire department staff is a little different to adding police officers. It’s a matter of providing a unit, or group, rather than a single individual such as a patrol officer.

He said the staffing and operation of the new station will require a realignment of the entire department.

“We will want veterans, as well as new hires, for the new station,” he, along with Fivas, emphasized. “We will want the best ‘team’ possible.”

Despite the difference in recruitment, Fivas said a “team approach” is a priority in all departments, although there is also the need for a solo or individual’s attention in some departments such as police officers.

Fivas said this is true in all of the city’s recruitment and staffing, not only in the fire and police departments, but elsewhere.

Harrison and his fire department staff will be treating the opening of the new station as a routine new-hire situation. They will be depending on the department’s existing recruitment pool to find the very best new hires.

These new fire department personnel will be required to pass testing and training before they will be integrated into the Cleveland Fire Department — at the new station, or at one of the established stations.

“What we do is bring in the highest quality of people (recruits) that we can,” Fivas said. “We spend a lot of time and energy in putting the right people in the right place. This is (can be) a 30-year marriage between that person and the city.”

The new fire station is expected to be completed in the spring. Harrison and his staff will have rearranged the department (and stations) by that time.

“We will have to allocate our personnel appropriately,” said Harrison. “We want to keep all of our stations strong.”

The first additions to the fire department will come from the department’s applicant pool, which Harrison said is currently strong.

“We just completed testing, and now have 52 prospects in the pool,” he said.

Harrison emphasized the pool is not just for the additions and needs of the new fire hall, but for everyday needs and vacancies in the department. There are continued retirements, and personnel leaving the fire department, and those openings are also filled from the applicant pool.

“This process is very routine for us,” Harrison said.

Fivas added the recruitment of fire department personnel can be a little different than other departments.

“Not only do they respond to fires, they are also asked to respond to other emergencies, such as medical situations,” he said.

“This is something that happens very frequently,” the fire chief added.

The two city officials said this is a reason the city places a high priority on the individuals being recruited, and their skills and abilities. They place a lot of emphasis on employment history and experience.

Harrison and Fivas said the needs of the fire department in the 21st century are much different than what they used to be.

“We have to step up our sophistication and take it to the next, and a more complex, level,” said Fivas.

Harrison added it is his responsibility, and the responsibility of his staff, to take what research they receive and look ahead to what will be needed by the fire department 20 years into the future.

“There are no set demands, at this point,” he pointed out. “We have to plan for the ‘what ifs.’”

Next: Police Department plans to add personnel.

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