Pitch made for hiring new city firefighter

Hiring a new full-time firefighter could save the city several thousand dollars in overtime costs in the next year, according to a presentation during a meeting of Marietta City Council’s employee relations committee Tuesday.

“Realistically we could expect a one-year savings of at least $16,000,” Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham told the committee members.

He said overtime has increased since fire Lt. Rodney Scott was deployed for overseas military duty and has been on leave from the city fire department. In October Durham requested city council’s permission to hire, at least temporarily, a replacement for Scott.

On Tuesday Durham said without figuring in overtime, the city’s price to hire a new firefighter is $68,708, including training costs.

He noted the city could potentially pay nearly that amount, $67,926, in overtime during Scott’s deployment.

Durham said sick leave also figures into the overtime equation.

“We’ve been trending down on sick leave time in recent years, but we can expect there will be about 35 sick leave hours taken on Scott’s shift each year,” he said. “That’s about $38,346 in overtime for that shift.”

Employee relations committee chairman Michael Mullen, I-at large, said it seemed like a “no-brainer” that the city should hire a firefighter to replace Scott and save the city overtime costs.

But committee member Harley Noland, D-at large, noted once Scott returns from duty, the newly-hired firefighter could be laid off, which would require the city to pay unemployment costs.

“That would be a possibility,” Durham said.

Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said the maximum unemployment benefit would be around $400 a week for 26 weeks. But the new firefighter may not have to be laid off when Scott returns.

“When Lt. Scott comes back we plan to open the (currently vacant) assistant chief’s position, for which the department captains can apply,” Hupp said.

In an effort to save on personnel costs, the assistant chief post has not been filled by city council since 2010.

Hupp said reopening and filling the assistant chief position would provide an opening in the firefighter ranks into which the new hire could be placed.

He added that keeping the new employee would bring the number of firefighters to 11 on two of the department’s three shifts, which also helps cut down on overtime.

“We’re going to proceed with legislation in the next two weeks to hire the additional firefighter,” Mullen said. “Meanwhile C.W. can approach the Civil Service Commission and arrange for testing of applicants.”

Durham said the department already has a pool of about 40 applicants who are looking for a position with the department.

Legislation to approve the hiring is expected to be introduced during the Feb. 6 meeting of Marietta City Council.