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 As of July 8, city administrators said that the Warren Fire Department was working to fill 19 vacant positions.

As of July 8, city administrators said that the Warren Fire Department was working to fill 19 vacant positions.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Officials address state of Warren Fire Department

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published July 17, 2020


WARREN — In late June, Warren City Councilman Garry Watts questioned the status of the city’s Fire Department and its staffing level after saying he learned Station No. 4 was closed at least temporarily on June 20, the Saturday before Father’s Day.

“I’ve been complaining about Station 4 being closed on and off for four or five years,” Watts said July 8.

At a meeting on June 23, Watts said he had been out running errands when he went by the station on Chicago Road, east of Mound Road, and saw that the lights were off and no cars were parked in back.

“All the vehicles were in there. Nobody was around,” Watts said. “I found out that they had a lack of manpower that day.”

Later asked about the situation, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said it was the result of a temporary lack of available overtime firefighters, due to the holiday weekend and reduced manpower — the end result of a delay in the hiring process caused by several factors.

As of July 8, city administrators said that the Warren Fire Department was working to fill 19 vacant positions. At the June 23 meeting, Human Resources Director George Dimas told the council the city would “move with lightning speed” to “hire the best of the best.”

“We’re going to work and engage in this process to expedite it as fast as we can,” Dimas said. “Everyone is working hard. We’re engaged in the project. We know there’s a need. The mayor is very, very concerned about the issue and has directed my department to expedite it to the best of our ability, and we plan on doing that.”

Dimas announced that the city’s recent search resulted in 47 potential candidates, including 33 veteran firefighters with experience through other departments.

He said negotiations with the Warren Professional Firefighters Union Local 1383 stopped the hiring process before they wrapped up a new four-year deal in November. After that, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic stymied the process, effectively cutting off the pipeline of firefighter graduates from the regional colleges and academies, and hampering the extensive interview, testing and background check requirements needed to bring the best candidates to Warren.

“We know that there’s a shortage, locally, regionally and nationally in both police and fire,” McAdams said. “We have got to do more to reach out to our communities. We have great support here in Warren. We feel like if we can attract Warren residents, we’ll have a better force reflective of our community and our culture and our principles. We want to be reflective of our community, and there’s no better way to do that than to recruit locally.”

McAdams said he planned to meet with union leaders to discuss the hiring practices with the goal of increasing the applicant pool. He said the mayor has supported a concept that would recruit the city’s students interested in a career in public safety.

“Those are more medium- and long-term goals. In the meantime, we still need to hire firefighters,” McAdams said. “We expect to have some relief here in the next month or so.”

The administration recommended a $26,484,172 budget for the Warren Fire Department for 2020-2021 with the elimination of three added positions requested by department administrators: one additional fire inspector, an EMS coordinator and a health and safety officer. Total staffing for the department was listed at 134, which includes commanders, clerical staff and 90 firefighters and paramedics. Of that number, McAdams said 19 would be unfilled heading into the last week of July.

At the June 23 meeting, Watts told Dimas and City Controller Rick Fox that he would again take them at their word about plans to bolster the Fire Department’s ranks. He later said he remained skeptical and questioned whether a hiring freeze might be in the works, similar to a one-year deal recently negotiated between the city and its union police officers in response to the anticipated financial crunch resulting from the pandemic.  

“It’s a trick question. I’m not convinced,” Watts said July 8. “They haven’t hired anybody yet.”

Fouts said no such freeze was currently on the table, and Fox said the recent deal would preclude that going forward, barring renegotiation.