Firefighters to be hired by the Rochester Fire Department will be brought on next year as city employees under a motion approved on Monday, October 8, by Rochester City Council.
Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik was directed by city council in June to explore staffing options stemming from a fire department study that would increase response times to meet nationally accepted standards. Those options included adding some additional positions that would ensure the fire station is manned on a 24/7 basis. Currently, firefighters at the department serve on a paid on-call status, meaning they must first drive to the fire station when responding to a fire, then respond from the station. The new structure would include a mix of full- and part-time firefighters, as well as a larger stable of paid-on call firefighters.
In August, Cieslik announced the department applied for and received a three-year fire safety grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) totaling $2.4 million. The grant, which will run through 2020, is intended to be used to fund new firefighter positions at the department.
Under recommendations by the ad-hoc fire committee that conducted the fire study, the department is expected to retain three current firefighter positions that provide 24/7 medical response from the station, and an additional five full-time equivalent positions, for a total of six full-time equivalent positions, or 18 total.
Council requested Cieslik explore staffing options, and recommend whether the city hire the additional firefighters as city employees, contract employees or work on an agreement with Rochester Hills to staff the fire station. Based on city council comments and a cost estimate, Cieslik on Monday, October 8, recommended the positions be retained as city employees.
'The city employee model is the most economical at an estimate of $83,697.86 per employee," Cieslik said. That amount, he said, includes all benefits and wouldn't add any legacy costs to the city, as retirement is set up through a defined contribution system and retirement health care is funded by a health savings account.
Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing said the city also looked at contracting with a labor provider, which would include slightly higher wages. Wing said the city also met with representatives from Rochester Hills to discuss the third option, which was higher than both the city employee and contract options.
"This evening, we are asking council to select the city employee option, or option A," he said.
Council unanimously approved the request, and also directed administration and the fire chief to work with the city's labor attorney to form job descriptions and spell out specifics of the labor agreements. The issue will then be brought back to council with a full budget schedule for council to consider for approval.
Cieslik said the fire grant is expected to pay for a full three years of staffing, with budget contributions from the city expected by the fourth year of operation. Staffing would be expected to begin on February 14, 2019, but could start as soon as January 1, 2019, if so requested by council, he said.
Councilwoman Ann Peterson expressed her desire to give current paid on-call firefighters preference in the hiring process for new firefighter positions with the city.
"We would give priority to those folks," Cieslik said. "Then, if we exhaust all of our candidates who have in essence been interviewing for the past 20 years, we would go outside."