Shaker, University Heights Officials Discuss Implementing a Merged Fire Department
Though public meetings and city council votes are needed, officials from both cities discussed implementing the recommending fire consolidation
Emergency Services Consulting International Senior Vice President Philip Kouwe said proximity is a big reason why a Shaker Heights-University Heights fire department consolidation could work. All residents in the cities are within a four minute drive of a fire station.
Though Shaker is a bigger city with a larger fire department than University Heights, Kouwe, whose firm completed a feasibility study on a fire department consolidation, said there are no major differences in the services both provide to residents.
"(ESCI has been) determining whether or not these cities can provide a critical government service together in a way that will either allow us to provide that service at an equal level for a less cost or to enhance service at around the same cost," Kouwe said.
Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken and University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld gave no dates for the public meetings or council votes that would be needed to fully merge the departments. However, Leiken said the process could be completed "in months."
The new fire department would be governed by the mayors of both cities, Leiken said. The Shaker Heights-University Heights Fire Department — a name the mayor used but said had not been decided on — would work under a single labor agreement. All of its workers would become employees of just one city, most likely Shaker.
Though International Association of Fire Fighters Local 516 Vice President Marty O'Neill said the Shaker fire union is cautiously optimistic about the plan, Susannah Muskovitz, a labor attorney who represents the unions for both fire departments, cautioned that many of the figures in the ESCI report are out of date. Leiken said he hoped ESCI would update the numbers.
A University Heights firefighter in the crowd said he was concerned with funding details, including whether paramedic levy money in that city would be returned to residents or if it would go Shaker.
"You're asking very specific questions," Infeld replied. "You'll hear more."
Shaker Heights City Council members gave few comments after the presentation, but Councilwoman Nancy Moore said that's because the governing body would take its time in reviewing the matter.
George Zaczyk, a Shaker firefighter for 16 years, said he, too, awaits more information.
"I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach," Zaczyk said. "It sounds good on paper, but the devil is in the details."
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