A merger of the Shaker Heights and University Heights fire departments seemed more likely than ever Monday, following a feasibility presentation.
Though he warned that talks were still preliminary, Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken discussed a joint labor agreement and a departmental name change at one point.
Joined by University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld and personnel from both fire departments, Leiken and city council received a lengthy presentation from Emergency Services Consulting International, the firm that has been studying whether the departments should combine forces.
ESCI Senior Vice President of Operations Philip Kouwe discussed four implementation options, but recommended the first — a consolidation that would save the cities a combined $750,000 each year. The plan would not include layoffs.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 516 Vice President Marty O'Neill said job preservation under a merger was "a breath of fresh air." Shaker Heights laid off four fire department employees in 2009.
"I physically had a sigh of relief," said George Zaczyk, a Shaker firefighter for 16 years. "Thanks goodness. I don't want to go through that again."
The cities would not need a public vote to consolidate the two fire departments, but both would hold public forums and need approval from city councils. The plan that ESCI, Leiken and Infeld all agree on would:
- Maintain all three of the cities' fire stations.
- Use one fire chief. The other would likely be offered a training officer position at a lower salary.
- Eliminate the use of one ladder company.
- Rid the departments of six positions, or two per shift. Instead of laying off workers, the cities would not fill current fire department vacancies, Leiken said. Two of the other options presented by ESCI would have eliminated one of the fire stations.