City to hire new firefighter

ALPENA — The Alpena Fire Department received the go-ahead from Alpena Municipal Council to move forward with the process to hire another full-time firefighter/paramedic.

According to Chief Bill Forbush a new employee is needed because of the stress excessive overtime is putting on the budget and on the other employees, who are often working long hours.

Forbush said the department runs three shifts and in reality a new employee for each would be ideal. He said he knows finances won’t allow for that, so he said hiring one who can fill in from one shift to another will allow more downtime for employees, as well as reduce the burden on payroll. He said the main reason that overtime has become such an issue is because there are three firefighters who are out with injuries. One is expected back soon, Forbush said, while the other two will be out of work for a longer duration.

“We have one that will be off until August and another that will be off for an undetermined period of time,” Forbush said. “A second officer may also need a follow-up surgery for a knee injury.”

According to Forbush the estimated cost to add an employee will be about $74,000, but he added that about $46,000 can be saved by having the new firefighter work on one shift until August and then afterward an additional $5,800 on a second shift until one of the injured employees returns.

“It would be operationally beneficial and economically feasible to add one more position at this time to mitigate some of the overtime cost,” he said. “Additionally, in the long term this new position will continue to provide overtime relief, especially during the day when the Echo unit is in service.”

Overall Forbush expects the city to save about $70,000 with the new employee added.

Forbush said the new employee will still be needed after the injured employees return because there are expected to be two employees who retire this year. He said the new hire will be able to help fill the void those will create. Forbush also warned that finding qualified candidates for the position could take some time.

“We anticipate at least one retirement probably this summer and a second early next year,” Forbush said. “These will create voids on the shifts that will take time to fill, as we move through the hiring and training process. It typically takes six months before a new employee is able to function independently and count as minimum staffing.”

Currently there are 27 firefighters at the department which is staffed around the clock and offers service to all of Alpena County and mutual aid to the surrounding area. It also does long distance transfers, which is a large source of revenue for the city, but requires a higher number of employees than departments that don’t.

Council voted 5-0 to approve the hiring.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.