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Council hears from fire union president on staffing dispute

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- City Council members discussed several issues and heard comments from several citizens at a packed meeting Thursday night.

Chuck Walsh, President of Local 89 of the International Association of Firefighters, addressed council concerning an order by City Manager Tom Vidovich to reduce the city fire department's minimum staffing requirement from 11 to 10 people per shift. Vidovich, as well as council members Sam Lopez and Becky Lake, have said it is necessary to keep overtime spending under control.

Walsh said when men required to operate trucks, ladders and hoses, as well as men required to be suited with breathing apparatus in case a resident needs to be retrieved from a structure, are taken into account, only four firefighters would be available for fire suppression on a one truck response to a residential fire.

"When you go on a call, the first 15 minutes is critical," Walsh said. "The first 15 minutes is when most of the fire suppression and rescue is done."

Walsh also said the area the department covers has increased, and so have the number of calls it answers. He added the order will be the main topic at the local's next meeting, though he said he hopes to work with the city on the issue.

Citing the city's tight budget and the overtime issue, Councilman Terry Greaver said the city should do what it can to collect delinquent fire service fees.

"In Mr. Ferrari's (city finance director) department presentation, he told us he bills over $900,000 a year in fire service fees and only collects $775,000," Greaver said before asking about the status of collection efforts.

Ferrari replied the city sued almost 1,000 people last year for delinquent fees.

"It's ongoing. It's the top priority in my office," Ferrari said.

Lopez suggested selling the old city garage. Councilman Jim Hunt supported the idea, adding the city could auction the facility without a minimum bid.

"Even if it only sells for $1, it goes back on the tax rolls and we can collect a fire fee from it," Hunt said.

However, Vidovich said before the garage is sold, soil at the facility will have to be tested for hazardous materials.

"We will address that," Vidovich added.

Hunt suggested council should direct the city Parking Commission to examine options for making the downtown parking situation less onerous for businesses.

"We have a serious problem with losing businesses downtown, despite good things happening like Newpointe. We have to have some way of addressing parking downtown," Hunt said. "Literally, those orange tickets are tickets out of our town."

Mayor David Kates and council member Margaret Bailey also expressed support for looking for alternatives.

In other business, Kenny Lewis of 217 Bryan Avenue, as well as other residents of Bryan Avenue, addressed council concerning an abandoned house on the street with a severe roach infestation.

Staff Writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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