Fairfield FD looks to start adding full-time staff this year

The city of Fairfield is asking residents to approve a 9.25-mill fire levy to replace its existing two levies and increase it by 2.1 mills. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

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The city of Fairfield is asking residents to approve a 9.25-mill fire levy to replace its existing two levies and increase it by 2.1 mills. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

Fire department will phase out part-time positions.

The Fairfield Fire Department now begins the work of transitioning into a career department after receiving overwhelming support for a new continuing fire levy.

Fairfield voters supported the requested 9.25-mill continuing fire levy with 65.86% of the vote, which is a 2-1 margin, during early voting and on Election Day, according to unofficial election results. The new fire levy replaces the city’s two existing continuing fire levies totaling 7.15 mills ― one approved in 2000 and one approved in 2016 ― will increase property taxes. The owner of a $150,000 home will pay $485.63 a year, which is an increase of about $200, according to the city.

“It’s going to take us a little bit of time to transition (into a career department),” said Fairfield Deputy Fire Chief Tom Wagner on Election Night. “Obviously, it’s going to take some time for the levy to take effect and for that money to come in, and time for us to recruit, too.”

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Wagner said they do anticipate similar issues they faced finding part-time firefighters, they’ll find issues “finding good, quality career people.”

“There’s a lot of competition in southwest Ohio, so we’re thankful and very grateful for the citizens to give us this opportunity to get out in front of this problem.”

Fairfield needed the new levy to transition from the combination department model, which incorporates full-time and part-time firefighters, into a career department, which has only full-time firefighters. This change was needed because the city, just like fire departments across the nation have experienced, they cannot retain part-time personnel due to the overabundance of full-time job openings.

Fire Chief Don Bennett previously told the Journal-News the department is “at a critical point” where it can no longer sustain the required level of service under the combination department staffing model.

The city spent $1.4 million in overtime costs in 2021 because they were not enough part-time personnel to cover shifts.

ExploreHow much will you pay with Fairfield's new 9.25-mill fire levy

The failure of the levy would have resulted in a dire situation for the fire department that would include required supplemental funding from the general fund, which would have depleted the state-mandated required rainy day fund by 2029. This would put the city’s Aa1 bond rating (the second-best possible rating) at risk, and reduce funding for other high-priority items, like the police department, capital projects, street improvements, and economic development, according to Fairfield Finance Director Jake Burton.

Fairfield’s fire department was one of the first in the region to incorporate the combination fire department model in the mid-1980s, While this allowed the department nearly 40 years ago to build a bench of firefighters who would develop knowledge and skills, that model does not work nowadays.

As early as 10 years ago, Fairfield saw part-time personnel stay anywhere from two-and-a-half to three years. But today, that average is around 10 months. And since 2015, nearly 150 part-time firefighters left either for a full-time job or the field altogether.

With the passage of the new fire levy, Fairfield will begin implementing the plan is to convert the 36 part-time spots into 18 full-time positions over time. Up to six of those full-time positions are expected to be added this year, and three full-time positions will be added annually between 2023 and 2026. The city currently has 39 full-time firefighters.

Wagner said the transition starts with the city’s human resources department as they put the word out the department is hiring. They’ll need to schedule a civil service test, and use social media networks and traditional advertising methods to find potential candidates.

They’ll also look inside the city at the existing part-time staff.

“We’re looking for lateral entry people, we’re looking for personnel that used to work for us, perhaps part-time that have gone elsewhere, that we’ll try to recruit people back,” said Wagner. “But we’re also looking internally. We have good, potential candidates within the part-time ranks, so instead of them going out and finding full-time jobs elsewhere, perhaps we have some within our own organization. They’ll have an opportunity to take that part-time knowledge they’ve gained with us and we can transition that into a full-time career for them.”

Vote totals are expected to change slightly by the Butler County Board of Election’s certification meeting.

Valid provisional ballots cast on Election Day will be included in the final election results, as will valid late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots. By law, any late-arriving vote-by-mail ballot postmarked on or before May 2 (the last day of early voting) that’s received by the elections office may be considered.

Certification of the May 3 primary election in Butler County is set for May 24.

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