December 12, 2012 - Whenever there's a fire, medical emergency or car crash, folks immediately call the Oxford Fire Department for help.
Well, now it's time to return the favor as the department is the one asking for help.
According to Fire Chief Pete Scholz, Oxford's been suffering from a lack of paid-on-call personnel for some time now and it's affecting the department's ability to adequately serve the public.
"Our paid-on-call (staff) respond directly to the scenes (of emergencies)," he explained. "It's getting to the point now that when a call comes in, you have no idea how many people are going to show up, if any.
"Sometimes we may have six people. Sometimes we may have one. Sometimes we get none. Daytime hours is when we're hurting the most (in terms of not having enough personnel on scene)."
Just how important are paid-on-call staffers to Oxford?
"Without the paid-on-call staff, we would not be able to function as a department," Scholz said. "The paid-on-call (staff) are the ones that actually drive the ambulance to the hospital. They help treat the patients. They also fight fires."
Right now, the department has 12 full-time career firefighters (not including the chief) and 22 paid-on-call personnel who respond to emergency situations as they arise.
"I'd like to add another 12 (paid-on-call)," Scholz said.
Oxford's lack of paid-on-call personnel is not unique.
"It's something that's affected our department as well as every other department in the state of Michigan," Scholz noted. "Every paid-on-call department in the nation is undergoing the exact same issues."
A big reason for the shortage is a simple lack of time.
"I think everybody's schedules today are so much busier than what they used to be. They don't have the time," Scholz said. "You've got both (adult) members of the family working, so there's less time to volunteer, if that's what you want to call it."
"Plus, the amount of training that's required (by the state) is making it more difficult for everybody to be able to do it," he noted.
It takes 120 hours of class time just to become certified as a basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and approximately 240 hours of instruction to become a firefighter.
"You've got roughly nine-and-a-half to 10 months of schooling required," Scholz said. "Then after that, we have an in-house training program that they have to go through (in order) to become oriented and acclimated to how we do things in our department. That includes learning about all the trucks, how to drive and operate them; (learning) all the streets in the township and the village; how to use the radios.
"So, from the time you start on the department until you're off probation is close to two years."
Scholz indicated that "in an ideal world," he would like to continue having all of Oxford's paid-on-call staff members cross-trained as both firefighters and EMTs. All 22 of them fill both roles right now.
But given the high volume of medical calls the department handles, he's now willing to employ those who just want to be EMTs and handle only medical calls.
"Medicals make up 80 percent of our call volume," Scholz said. "Our total call volume this year will be probably 1,800 calls. On an average day, we handle probably five (medical calls)."
Scholz noted that over the years, the department's had inquiries from people who just wanted to work the medical side of things.
"They're happy doing medicals and have no interest in being a firefighter," he said.
An EMT's role is very clear and crucial.
"Our EMTs respond directly to the scene," Scholz explained. "The paramedic drives the ambulance from the (fire) station to the scene. The EMTs help treat the patient and one of them then drives the ambulance to the hospital."
The lack of paid-on-call staff is putting a strain on existing personnel.
"Some of the guys are driving multiple calls throughout the day, or during a 24-hour period, on top of having regular full-time jobs," Scholz said. "It's just putting more workload on them. It takes away from their home life. It makes it more difficult for their work and everything else.
"Most of (the paid-on-call staffers) have full-time jobs and/or are in college. Running these calls on top of that makes it pretty stressful for them."
Paid-on-call staff receive an hourly wage based on their level of education/training and number of years with the department. They only receive pay for time spent responding to calls. Hourly wages start out at $9.88 during the first year of probation and go all the way up to $16.97 after five years.
Applications can be obtained via the department website at www.oxfordfiredept.com or in person at Station #1 (96 N. Washington St.) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, a resident of either Oxford Township or Village, a high school graduate or GED-holder, possess a good driving record and have no criminal history.
Applicants must also successfully complete a standardized physical agility test, pre-employment physical exam and drug test.
For more information, please contact Chief Scholz at (248) 969-9483.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.