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Joliet hires four firefighter paramedics

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:13 p.m. CDT

Editor’s note: This article was initially printed in the Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, edition of The Herald-News. A corrected story is being printed in today’s edition to reflect the fact that the motion in question did pass the Joliet City Council.

JOLIET – The City Council hired four firefighter paramedics Tuesday after a motion to table the agenda item failed to receive a second.

Voting on the original matter – which was included in a group of routine agenda items including meeting minutes, payroll and other financial reports – was held up by District 1 Councilman Larry Hug, who requested that the paramedic hiring be broken out to be considered at a later time.

According to City Attorney Jeff Plyman, the council members who made and seconded the original motion agreed to revise that motion to include everything but the hirings. The council then voted to approve the amended motion.

After about 40 minutes of discussion on the hirings, Hug then made a motion to table the matter, Plyman said. That motion failed to receive a second. Another motion then was made to approve the hirings, which the council approved with Hug voting “present,” Plyman said.

The hirings bring the Joliet Fire Department’s workforce back to its pre-recession employment level of 209 firefighters.

During council discussion of the matter, Hug noted that the fire department already has gone through 80 percent of its overtime budget for the year – about $1.36 million. He estimated at the current rate the department would go about 50 percent above its overtime budget by the end of the year.

“If we’re going to commit to more hires, than the OT budget should come down,” Hug said.

Fire Chief Joe Formhals said the overtime budget was inflated because the department was short firefighters at the beginning of the year. He estimated transfers from the regular payroll into overtime would reduce OT expenses by about $400,000 to $500,000.

Formhals said the new hires were necessary to maintain the 10 floater positions required to maintain 24-7 fire service. The floater positions cover firefighters who are out sick or on workman’s compensation – at least two or three positions per day – as well as those on vacation, Formhals said.

“I need nine to 10 floaters per day just to cover the shifts,” Formhals said. “Our only other option is to take equipment out of service.”

Lack of staffing has prevented full operation of Ambulance 9, which has operated only intermittently since about 2012, Formhals said.

At the same time, Formhals noted that the department likely would need additional overtime in 2015 to guarantee staffing of Ambulance 9. One reason for the increase involves the labor contract, which is scheduled to increase by 2 percent next year, he said.

Hug said other city departments appeared to more effectively operate within their means. According to city records, the public utilities department has spent about 60 percent of its overtime budget, while the police department has spent about 45 percent.

The public works department, on the other hand, has spent 147 percent of its overtime budget, primarily because of heavy snowfall over the winter.

City Manager Jim Hock noted that city’s new finance director, Jim Ghedotte, will be starting next week to help address the situation.

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