Oxford considers options for funding, staffing shortfalls within fire department

57% of calls are false alarms, putting unnecessary strain on the department.

A call came to the Oxford Fire Department in January from an Oxford Twp. mobile home park. Firefighter/paramedic Sarah Hundall, her partner and the shift commander all sprung into action.

Arriving on the scene, the three discovered a trailer enveloped in fire.

But the crew only had three people — not enough to operate the fire engine. On an engine team, the driver pumps water, and another runs the officer seat. That leaves one person to perform a solo rescue.

“That is not enough to have a proper fire response,” she said. Most departments have officers riding in the back of the fire truck as well.

In this case, two people in the trailer park had already rescued the woman inside, but it could have been different.

“If they hadn’t pulled her out, she probably would’ve died,” said Oxford Fire Captain Chris Johns.

This is the reality of working as a firefighter in Oxford, fire officials say. The crew was short-staffed with nine full-time firefighter/paramedics. Two have left, leaving only seven full-time members to handle an area over 50 miles. The department had about 3,000 calls in 2021.

“We don’t have enough people to protect the city, let alone a city and a university,” said Hundall.

Johns said the station is so short-staffed that every employee present must respond to every call. This makes responding to multiple calls impossible.

“If we’re out working on a cardiac arrest, and a house fire comes in, we don’t have anybody to go to it,” said Johns. “It’s kind of scary.”

OFD employs additional part-time and volunteer responders, but it’s still a far cry from what they need, Johns said.

Working long hours and overtime can potentially lead to mistakes being made out on call. The EMS responders already work 12-hour shifts and are often up for days at a time, Hundall said.

“They want us on our ‘A’ game,” said Hundall. “They don’t want us on our last leg.”

A mistake in normal jobs can usually be fixed easily. A mistake as a firefighter could be life or death.

“If I’m up [for days] … and on that 46th hour I give the wrong dose of a medication to somebody and they die ‘cause I’m tired…,” said Johns. “It’s not safe for not just us but people we’re supposed to take care of.”

City Manager Douglas R. Elliot Jr. said the city can’t hire more firefighters without more revenue. OFD ran a deficit of nearly $330,000 the last fiscal year. The city estimates the deficit for 2023 will be more than half-a-million dollars.

Considering solutions

Oxford City Council has discussed three possibilities to resolve the issue, Elliot said.

The city’s first option is to possibly implement an additional income tax to the residents. Elliot said if the city increased the income tax a quarter of a percent, it would bring in an additional $1.3 million. However, that would give Oxford the highest income tax in Butler County.

The second option is an increase in property taxes. This could bring in about the same total, but because Miami University is property tax exempt, Oxford’s permanent residents would shoulder the burden.

A third option discussed by council was charging Miami University. Council determined that 43% of all fire calls are for students on Miami campus or within the Mile Square. Elliot said that he estimated that including off-campus housing like Annex and Level 27 would push the calls over 50%.

“That’s one reason that we feel that … Miami University or students should contribute because they put a demand on our fire/EMS for services,” said Elliot.

Oxford found that 57% of all calls were false alarms, putting unnecessary strain on the department.

The department also needs to replace its 2005 ladder truck, officials said. The company that produced it went under in 2014. A new one costs $1.7 million, and the price keeps rising. Johns said getting parts to fix the truck is difficult.

This story was published by the Oxford Observer, a content partner of the Oxford Press. See it online at oxfordobserver.org.

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