This is not a merger, and not regionalization
On Thursday, Feb. 7, University Heights (UH) resident Anita Kazarian interviewed John Novosielski, president of Local 974 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Kazarian’s questions and Novosielski’s responses follow.
Q: One hundred percent of University Heights (UH) firefighters are trained as paramedics or emergency medical services. Is this true of Shaker Heights firefighters?
A: No. University Heights is 1.9 square miles and covered by two advanced life support ambulances, with everyone in the department trained to provide a high level of service. Shaker Heights is 6.3 square miles and covered by three ambulances, with only 53 percent of the department [trained] as paramedics. Currently, UH residents have a quick response time—under four minutes. Shaker’s response time is under five minutes. Most calls are heart attacks or strokes where brain damage can occur in four to six minutes. One minute can make a life or death difference.
Q: The emergency response time [in the feasibility study conducted last fall] for Shaker was changed from the original presentation in Oct. 2012, why?
A: The original presentation showed UH had a significantly faster response time—4:21 minutes vs. Shaker’s 5 minutes. This did not look good for Shaker, so they were asked by the study group to eliminate nonemergency calls [no lights/sirens]. UH was not afforded that opportunity for the revised November presentation. If we were, our response time would have dropped even more significantly. The study group decided to compare apples to oranges.
Q: Did Mayor Infeld request technical support/guidance from the UH Fire Department in understanding the study or drawing up the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) she wants council to pass?
A: No. Page 117 of the study says “nearly always, a key staff, councilor, or governing body member champions the concept garnering the support of the various affected groups [political, labor, members and community].” We have not had the mayor come to us to garner our support. We have not had two-way communication [also advised in the study] to this point. We were shut out of the process and had no say at all.
Q: Do you support regionalization efforts?
A: Yes, we definitely would. We have been working with state and national organizations that have knowledge of successful regionalization efforts. With just two cities involved, it is too small in scope to achieve any efficiency in providing service and/or cost savings—the reason for regionalization. This study should have included, at a minimum, all four neighboring cities to UH: Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid and Beachwood. With these five cities you would have legitimate cost savings and better service. This plan is just a takeover. Infeld is quoted saying “it just makes sense that the smaller entity be absorbed by the larger.”
Q: Is this a merger as the mayor states?
A: No. This is a contract for service from the City of Shaker Heights. All employees will be Shaker Heights employees operating under the Shaker Heights Finance Department. UH will just have to cut a check to Shaker Heights.
Q: If this is a takeover and not a merger or regionalization, what do you think is the motive?
A: Infeld is on County Executive Fitzgerald’s County Planning Commission. Fitzgerald wants regionalization. It may be politically beneficial to Infeld if University Heights is the first in the area to contract fire safety out to another city. But remember, this plan is not regionalization.
Q: All University Heights firefighters will be laid off as part of the deal. What about Shaker Heights firefighters?
A: No, they will not be laid off because this is not a merger. It is only the University Heights department that will be eliminated. We are not given any guarantee to a job, rank or seniority with Shaker under this MOU. There is even mention that previously laid off Shaker Heights staff (4) will be rehired before jobs are given to any laid off University Heights firefighters.
Q: Does that mean the University Heights firefighter with 26 years of seniority will enter the Shaker Heights system as a new hire? No seniority and entry level pay?
A: Yes, that is a distinct possibility.
Q: Have residents contacted you?
A: Yes, we have overwhelming citizen and business support. They were dismayed at the fact the mayor is getting rid of their firefighters. The fact there will no longer be a University Heights Fire/EMS Department will have a negative effect on businesses and their insurance rates. We’ve provided top-notch service for 71 years and people don’t understand why a change to less than the current level of service is being considered by city council.
Q: Which brings us to council, what do you expect from council?
A: They will either vote to accept or reject this proposal. Council gets the final say whether this goes forward or not.
Q: What do you hear from area fire departments?
A: Cleveland Heights and South Euclid firefighters have shown support for the retention of our University Heights Fire Department. Cleveland Heights City Council publicly stated they wanted to be part of the study, but were shut out. Shaker Heights firefighters fully oppose the plan as facts of the MOU became public over the past few weeks.
Q: Do you have any additional comments?
A: We encourage the community to keep informed of the facts. Contact all council members and ask them to maintain the high level of service with their own independent fire department.
Anita Kazarian is a marketing professional, president of Noah’s Landing, LLC and a longtime resident of University Heights. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org