Norwalk council, administrators discuss firefighters' overtime pay

Cary Ashby • Aug 2, 2019 at 11:00 AM

With an increase in calls has come a related rise in overtime pay for Norwalk firefighters.

Mayor Rob Duncan said in addition to the “call volume” increasing lately, there were two severe fires recently in the city and the crew provided assistance twice at Nickel Plate Beach in Huron. Firefighters helped with recovery efforts for two drownings.

The July 17 fire at 29 Grand Ave., a vacant house, is being considered an arson. Police Detective Sgt. Seth Fry has said authorities have “received a few tips” during the active investigation. The cause of the fire that took place in the early morning hours of July 3 at 29 Walnut St. remains unknown; it resulted in the death of 19-year-old Devin Spooner.

Duncan told Norwalk council members all of those circumstances means that finance director Michelle Reeder is coming to council with a budget supplement request a few weeks earlier than in previous years.

Reeder is requesting a $65,869 budget supplement to cover additional salaries and wages estimated to be paid in overtime. No decision was made Tuesday since it was a council work session.

In 2019, the Norwalk Fire Department budgeted $140,000 for overtime, Reeder said, and in 2018, the agency spent about $157,200.

While it generally has been less expensive to pay overtime rather than hiring more firefighters, Councilman Dave Wallace said if the calls continue to increase, that issue will need to be addressed. He is a retired firefighter who served the city for more than 16 years. Wallace represents the second ward on council.

Councilman Matt Doughty, who represents the fourth ward, said it may be a good idea for the city to look at how other municipalities handle overtime for their fire departments.

The crew responded to 1,505 calls in 2013, compared to 598 in 2005, according to the department annual report. In 2018, firefighters handled 2,087 incidents.

In other fire department news, Capt. Rick Perry said the crew had an all-day training session on the North Central EMS ambulance now being housed at the station. That situation is part of the new three-year agreement between the city and Fisher-Titus Affiliated Services for emergency medical services and ambulance coverage by North Central. Council approved the agreement in May.

Perry echoed the mayor, saying there has been an increase in the call volume and the seriousness of those incidents this year.

Regarding the ambulance, safety-service director Ellen Heinz said it’s only expected to go on a maximum of “a couple calls a month” and generally will be used as a last resort. The vehicle, which has about 150,000 miles on it, went into service Thursday. 

Heinz also commended the firefighters and their leadership team for their great effort while Chief John Soisson has been out for about six weeks due to a medical issue. Soisson returned home this week.

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