by Chris Studor
Emergency medical services as provided by the Hinckley Township Fire Department could see a transformation in the coming months depending on two factors: how trustees believe the EMS portion of the department should be staffed and how willing taxpayers are to approve a tax increase to increase staffing levels.
The topic is one that came under scrutiny in recent weeks following a May 10 work session in which township trustees discussed staffing and the levy, along with the possibility of outsourcing the EMS portion of the fire department in an effort to cut costs. The discussion resulted in varying views among trustees, fire personnel and township residents.
Regardless of which option trustees decide to pursue with regard to EMS services, township officials say the firefighting arm of the department will remain.
Currently, the Hinckley Fire Department operates three shifts with two part-time volunteer firefighters on duty around the clock as well as a part-time fire chief. Although all firefighters and EMTs/paramedics are paid according to rank, the department is still considered volunteer because it does not employee anyone fulltime, nor does it provide benefits. Accordingly, the department also is limited to a certain number of volunteer hours per month set by the state of Ohio.
Trustee Melissa Augustine says pay increases recently have been made so that firefighters working the overnight shift receive the same pay as they do during first and second shifts. Previously, they had been $10 an hour to staff the station at night.
As far as funding is concerned, the department is supported by several levies and the township’s general fund. A 1-mill fire levy will expire at the end of this year which means trustees have to determine whether to ask voters to renew only the 1-mill levy, which trustees say is inadequate to fund the growing township. They also have the option of placing two separate levies on the ballot – one of which would be a 1-mill renewal, while the other would account for the additional millage needed to expand the department.
Following the May 10 discussion of outsourcing emergency medical services, the Hinckley Firefighters Association issues a strong statement on social media. That statement was formed by the association’s executive board and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hinckley Fire Department, said Fire Chief Jestin Grossenbaugh
“Current funding does not always provide for a paramedic on duty on each shift,” the association’s statement reads. “Having a paramedic respond to a medical emergency greatly increases the chance of survival and allows for advanced life support. Bordering communities including Brunswick, Brunswick Hills, North Royalton, Broadview Heights, Strongsville and Richfield Fire Departments staff with paramedics at all times with three EMS members. Having only two fire fighters denies additional treatment for critical patients since one fire fighter must drive the ambulance to the hospital. We do not like making public statements but when the safety of residents is in jeopardy, we find it a necessity to inform all residents of the ongoing problem.”
The day after the firefighters’ association made the post, Grossenbaugh posted his own statement on social media stating that he did not have the necessary information to comment on the idea of outsourcing his department’s medical services to Medina LST, which is operated by the Cleveland Clinic and serves the city of Medina and Montville Township. He said he “would have to disagree” with the statement from the firefighters association that outsourcing would jeopardize the safety of residents until he has the opportunity to gather all the facts.
He went on to say that “Trustee [Monique] Ascherl, liaison to the fire department, has been extremely supportive of the fire department and has always been honest and fair with me allowing me to look at things from a different perspective.”
Augustine remains steadfast in her views that the Hinckley Fire Department needs to move to a fulltime department and opposes outsourcing the department’s EMT services to Medina LST.
“I stand by this goal,” said Augustine. “We have worked so hard the past few years to build up our department. It is a jewel that serves the community and needs to be staffed properly.
Ascherl contends trustees have a financial duty to explore the possibility of outsourcing before placing a levy on the ballot this fall.
“I don’t think trustees are leaning toward outsourcing, but we do have to look at all of the costs,” she said. “Equipment costs have been extraordinary. I am more in favor of having three firefighters on duty 24-7, but having them be parttime instead of fulltime so we would not have to pay benefits.”
Swedyk, who also wants to explore outsourcing, agrees. He said as an elected official, he has “a duty to look into all options,” noting that the “welfare and safety of our citizens will always be a priority during my tenure.”