EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.
MOUNT VERNON — In asking this question, our Knox Pages reader said the MVFD has lowered minimum staffing from what was promised with the addition of providing services to Liberty Township.
“With the pandemic not slowing the need for services, city management has taken vital resources of first responders from our community,” the reader wrote.
MVFD Chief Chad Christopher said the department's minimum staffing always was eight personnel before COVID-19 hit in March.
“When that hit, we raised it to nine to help prepare so that if we had a surge in calls, we could take care of them,” he said. “We did drop back down to eight around Thanksgiving to lower the impact of Covid during this latest surge.”
Christopher said that dropping to eight meant less exposure to and a reduced chance of spreading the virus. He anticipates going back to nine when statewide numbers of Covid cases start to come down.
“We'll probably be back up to nine after the first of the year,” he said.
Minimum staffing means the number of personnel required to be in the station.
“It was at nine, it's at eight now. We have to have eight bodies here. Once we drop below that, we have to call in overtime,” Christopher said.
In 2016, Liberty Township residents voted to withdraw from the Central Ohio Joint Fire District and go with the MVFD for fire and EMS coverage starting in 2017. A deciding factor was the city's promise to hire three additional personnel, one for each of the three shifts. The plan was to hire in January 2017 and complete training by March.
At the Feb. 14, 2017, council meeting, former Mayor Richard Mavis told council that he notified the township trustees that the city was not going to hire the personnel because of a downturn in the city's financial status. He said it was still the city's intention to hire one crew member per shift when the budget situation cleared.
Christopher said it was about a year later that the city hired the three additional crew members. The three are still on staff.
Before picking up coverage for Liberty Township, the MVFD had three 12-member crews. Christopher said that between vacation, sick/medical leave, comp time, and Kelly Days (10 days off without pay each year), it was not hard to get down to the eight-member minimum. At times, however, there could be 10 or 11 in the station.
After hiring the additional personnel, the MVFD went to a 13-member crew. Even accounting for time off, there are typically nine or 10 members in the station, not just the required minimum of eight.
Christopher said that neither the reduction in minimum staffing nor the coronavirus greatly affected the MVFD.
“We've been answering every call,” he said. “Other than having to wear masks, when the tones go off, guys have to get on the truck and answer the emergency.
“Proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and decontamination procedures, we are doing more of that,” he continued. “One thing we've learned is we probably should have been doing more decon before, so that's one positive [from Covid].”
Christopher said the MVFD responds to about 15 to 20 calls a month in Liberty Township. If the MVFD is unable to respond, the Central Ohio Joint Fire District is the most likely department to provide mutual aid.
“I do not believe that Central Ohio has had to come in any more than normal,” said Christopher, referring to the change in minimum staffing from nine to eight. “It's definitely not out of the normal.”
A COJFD official said that while it would take several days to pull statistics, he did not believe there was any difference in the number of mutual aid runs to Liberty Township over the past four years.