Less money in the budget, a heroin epidemic that continues to ravage the city, and trying to respond to emergency calls with fewer firefighters are among the top challenges newly appointed Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli will face.
In 2014, the Middletown Division of Fire’s budget was $9.1 million. This year it’s $8.5 million. Sixty-three firefighters, including Lolli, are on staff — down from 73 firefighters after layoffs were made in August as part of the city’s need to reduce its budget.
The layoffs have had a large impact on the department, Lolli, 53, said.
“One thing we had to do was go down to a 13 minimum a day for firefighters and paramedics on duty,” he said. Those numbers are stressing a system that often sees firefighters respond to 19 emergency calls in a 24-hour period.
Lolli said he would like to see 16 firefighters on duty each day.
Heroin’s prevalence in Middletown has also affected the fire department.
On New Year’s Eve, firefighters received nine possible drug overdose calls within one hour, and “most of them were heroin,” Lolli said.
“It’s a problem that Middletown and a lot of other places need to deal with and we need to get a hold of because it’s killing people,” he said.
More than $1.5 million in government funds were spent responding to the growing heroin problem in Middletown last year, City Manager Doug Adkins has said.
Lolli estimates firefighters have responded to approximately 200 calls for heroin overdoses in January. The cost of Narcan, which reverses the affect of heroin and other narcotics, has increased nearly 100 percent, he said.
“Last year it was $24 a dose for Narcan, now it’s up to $42,” he said.
The fire department spent approximately $10,000 last year on Narcan, and Lolli said he expects to spend much more this year.
“If things keep going the way they’re going … my concern is it might be up to about $18,000,” he said.
Another way to combat shrinking budgets and staff is to better educate the community about emergencies, Lolli said. In order to meet his goal of reducing non-emergency calls by 15 percent, Lolli said residents will have to learn how to “wisely use the 911 system.”
“People will call for toothaches…” Lolli said. And firefighters, by state law, must respond, he said.
Even with all the challenges the department faces, Lolli remains determined.
“I love the city of Middletown, I love the Middletown fire department,” said the 25-year veteran of the department who has been serving as acting fire chief since the September resignation of former chief Steve Botts.
Adkins in a memo praised Lolli’s leadership skills, saying he is confident that the new chief will lead the fire division “in these challenging times.”
Lolli, who graduated from the University of Dayton in 1983 with a bachelors degree in education, has served in several positions in the department.
“I learned a lot and came up through the ranks. I was involved in our firefighters association, I was president of the firefighter’s union for several years, I had the opportunity to see both sides,” he said.
He previously worked part-time for the Miami Twp. Fire Department before being hired by Middletown in 1989.
Middletown City Council members are expected to confirm Lolli’s appointment Feb. 17.