Franklin’s combined fire and EMS department off to promising start

6:30 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 Local News

The first six months for Franklin’s new fire and EMS department have gone pretty much according to plan, Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said Tuesday.

So far the new emergency medical services unit has responded to 967 calls for service, slightly fewer than the 1,000 calls originally projected, according to progress reports. And the city just recently struck a deal with the firefighters union on a new three-year contract that will give full-time firefighters 3 percent raises each year, retroactive to Jan. 1.

This time a year ago, city officials were in the midst of splitting with the Joint Emergency Medical Services District, which had been providing ambulance services for Franklin, Franklin Twp. and Carlisle since 1982. City officials wanted their own fire and EMS department and went to the ballot in August of 2012 to get it.

Voters approved a 3.5-mill continuing property tax levy that generates $733,000 a year to fund those operations.

“It’s been a long year, and when we look back … and see what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short amount of time, it is remarkable to have a successful operation,” Westendorf said. “There are real benefits to having fire and EMS in one department, and I don’t think there are any downsides to it. I’m happy with what we’re able to deliver to the community.”

Westendorf said the department has been able to hire some “highly qualified, energetic new staff members who are really excited.

“Everyone is enjoying the job … It shows the level of care we’re delivering,” he said.

Franklin EMS has quickly become the second-highest transporting squad to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown and to the Kettering Health Network, which operations Sycamore and Kettering hospitals.

City officials are working with the JEMS board to finalize the division of assets and liabilities as a result of Franklin’s withdrawal from the district. Westendorf said the division of assets and liabilities “is about 90 percent complete” and he hopes to have a final recommendation to council by its Sept. 16 meeting.

Westendorf said the city received two EMS ambulances and equipment from JEMS and purchased a third ambulance in October of 2012. He said since the split, both EMS departments have worked together at times when one of them needed back-up assistance.

JEMS Chief Andy Riddioughsaid, “I can tell you we are providing and receiving an equal amount of mutual aid as expected and have been able to work cooperatively. Life is moving on.”

Riddiough said the revamped JEMS organization, which operates from its station in the city of Franklin on East Sixth Street, remains responsible for the EMS needs in Franklin Twp. and Carlisle. He said between Jan. 1 and Aug. 20, JEMS units responded to 960 calls for service and is on track to respond to 1,200 to 1,800 calls by the end of 2013.

Meanwhile, Franklin’s new contract with its fire union was the product of a recent binding ruling by a conciliator.

Conciliator John Lenehan of Dayton issued his ruling July 31 to resolve contract issues between the city and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3742, which represents Franklin’s firefighters.

City Council approved a resolution that updated its employee pay to include the increased raise for firefighters. According to a staff report written by City Manager Sonny Lewis, the city had budgeted for a 2 percent increase in union wages for 2013. The additional 1 percent required the city to make an additional appropriation of $14,393.

The conciliator also ordered the union to pay 0.5 percent more into their insurance premium each year of the contract. Retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, union members will pay 12.5 percent of their insurance premium. That will increase to 13 percent in 2014 and 13.5 percent in 2015. In addition, the conciliator let stand the current provisions for sick leave and holidays and rejected a union proposal for minimum staffing.

A $2 per hour stipend for employees with EMT/paramedic certification who perform that rule was eliminated and those employees will receive a one-time lump sum bonus of $325.

When asked about the conciliator’s ruling, Westendorf said, “It is what it is.”

Fire Capt. Tony Abston, local union president, said it was the first time the union had gone to binding arbitration since it was established more than a decade ago.

“We’re happy with the report,” Abston said. “We thought it was fair.”