The Columbus Fire Department is currently staffed with 23 career personnel: 18 firefighters, three captains, one assistant chief and one chief.
“CFD headquarters requires a total of 18 personnel to be staffed with six individuals 24/7/365. This allows for one person to be off per day, leaving our minimum staffing level at five,” Columbus Fire Chief Ryan Gray said. “Those five personnel are split between a fire engine with three personnel and an ambulance with two personnel.”
All things considered, CFD has made some major advancements in the last decade. In 2017, the City hired its first full time fire chief, moved into its new headquarters in 2020, as well as introduced a paid-reserve firefighter program and hired an assistant fire chief in 2022.
“All of these improvements were needed. I am proud of the advancements the department has experienced. They have been significant, but we have completed them efficiently and transparently,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said. “Public safety is paramount. Before all of these improvements, the Columbus Fire and Rescue Department was behind the curve and we weren’t living in that truth, today we are. There is still work to be done, but everything takes time and effort and the majority of these things also take funding, which is limited.”
That said, the City of Columbus leadership recognizes the need and the community’s desire for the Charlie Louis Fire Station, 424 8th St. on the southeast side of town, to be manned. CFD at Charlie Louis would operate under a three-shift schedule with a minimum of four personnel per shift. Under that scenario, 12 staff members would be needed to properly staff Charlie Louis (taking into account salaries, benefits, uniforms, personal protective equipment, training and retirement contributions, among other things).
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: The Charlie Louis Fire Station in Columbus.)
Progress has been made. The City was able to hire three additional personnel last fiscal year and plans to bring on three more this fiscal year. The three to be hired this fiscal year will specifically go toward the 12 needed to staff Charlie Louis.
That leaves CFD to hire an additional nine personnel and promote three personnel to captain to have one supervisor per shift at Charlie Louis and have the southside station functioning properly.
“These additional personnel are a great step in the right direction toward our overall staffing plan,” Gray said. “The additional personnel allow us the ability to safely manage multiple calls simultaneously and significantly increase our operational effectiveness on the scene of a fire.”
Gray in early November presented a strategic plan for CFD to the Columbus City Council, outlining practices, procedures and goals for the department moving forward. That can be viewed in full on the City’s website by opening the Nov. 6 City Council meeting agenda here.
“Every department within the city, like any organization or person, is either improving or declining every day. Those that are improving have a vision and goals. Ryan understands this, which is why he led his department in creating the first strategic plan for fire/rescue in Columbus,” Vasicek said. “It will enable the Fire and Rescue Department to continuously improve.”
Gray, Vasicek and Mayor Jim Bulkley said they want to work with the Columbus City Council in the coming months to develop a practical plan to staff Charlie Louis without burdening taxpayers.
“I am committed to working with Tara and other city leaders to provide the best possible solution,” Gray stressed. “This is not an easy task, considering the amount of money that would be required to do this. This is a funding issue that will require all of us to work through.”
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