from several Cleveland area cities joined their Bay Village
counterparts Monday as they protested Mayor Debbie Sutherland’s
recent decision to cut minimum staffing levels when a firefighter
calls off. The firefighters set up pickets near Bay Village
City Hall all day. (West Life photo by Larry Bennet)
picket City Hall about cuts
By Jeff Gallatin
Published March 5, 2008
firefighters took their disagreement with Mayor Debbie Sutherland’s
recent cut in department minimum staffing levels to the streets
Monday and got a little help from their friends.
Members of the Bay Village Firefighters Association
picketed by City Hall at the intersection of Wolf and Dover Roads
as well as Dover Road near Lake Road. They were joined by firefighters
from an assortment of other Cleveland area departments. The move
was prompted by Sutherland’s recent dropping of the minimum staffing
level from six to five firefighters when a firefighter calls off
“We’re just trying to get the word out to people,”
said Jim Walts, the Association president. “This is another way
of doing that, and we certainly appreciate the support from the
firefighters from other departments.”
Walts said he has not spoken about the situation with
Sutherland since she cancelled a scheduled meeting last week with
fire union officials.
“Clearly, she doesn’t have an open door policy,” Walts
said, referring to the mayor saying she has an open door.
Sutherland said she cancelled the meeting because
she didn’t believe anything could be accomplished at it.
“Nothing would come out of it,” she said. “It was
an administrative decision and it’s done.”
Firefighters also planned to attend Monday night’s
City Council meeting. Walts said they haven’t decided if they will
Matt Peters, from North Olmsted Firefighters Local
1267 and a former Bay Village resident, said it was important for
other firefighters to support Bay Village.
“It cuts across city boundaries when you cut staffing
levels,” Peters said. “We all depend on each other for mutual aid
calls, so when you go below safe levels it will affect all of us
if we need someone to help out elsewhere.”
Among the other departments present were Avon, Fairview
Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Rocky River, Bedford Heights, Brooklyn,
Independence and North Ridgeville.
Sutherland contends the move will help control departmental
overtime costs for a tight 2008 budget. The mayor said the department
overtime budget has gotten out of control, noting it was about $269,000
in 2007, with the administration’s proposed budget dropping that
“It’s only when a firefighter calls off, and it won’t
affect most of the calls,” Sutherland said. “This is another of
many ways to control the budget.’
However, firefighters contend the move is creating
a safety hazard for city residents and firefighters by dropping
the minimum staffing level. Walts said the city doesn’t have to
balance the budget by cutting so much from the fire department staffing
“There are other ways to balance the budget,” Walts
said, noting that the city has a $15 million general reserve fund
which some officials, including Sutherland, are advocating using
more of to curb the rising budget costs.
Walts disagrees with Sutherland, saying the overtime
budget costs have gotten out of control.
“If the city added firefighters to the staff, they
wouldn’t have to put out the overtime they do,” Walts said. “And
the one year spike was largely caused by vacancies on the department.
Additional staff could cure that.”
Walts also disagreed with an earlier statement by
Sutherland that bringing the staffing level to five is similar to
the department’s level prior to Bay Village West Shore Central Dispatch.
Sutherland said of the six firefighters on duty then, five would
go out if necessary and one would stay to handle phones and dispatching.
“It was up to the duty officer in charge to decide
if the sixth man would stay or go out,” Walts said. “If the duty
officer said to go, then the phones would be turned over to the
Walts said he also disagrees with the letter sent
out to city residents by Sutherland and City Council President Brian
Cruse last week after the firefighters sent a mailing saying the
group needed help from residents and that they should call city
officials to protest the staffing change. He added that he did appreciate
meeting with Cruse, although he didn’t think the president should
have signed the letter.
“They’re not providing the right budget numbers in
the letter,” Walts said.
Both city officials disagreed with Walts’ contention
that the figures in the letter are inaccurate.
“They’re right out of our budget,”
“I was happy to meet with them because their work
is not in question,” Cruse said. “It’s the budget, and I’ve told
the firefighters to show me numbers to back them up.”
Walts said he will provide Cruse numbers, but added
he believed Cruse should already have them from prior information.