May 14, 2014 - The Oxford Fire Department is suffering from a shortage of paid-on-call personnel and Chief Pete Scholz is turning to the community for help.
"They're dropping like flies," said Scholz, noting he lost one paid-on-call staffer last week because the gentleman is moving out of the community.
Finding new recruits is difficult for Oxford – and fire departments across the state and nation – due to the time constraints imposed by jobs, families and all of the other responsibilities and demands associated with modern life.
"Everybody is busy," the chief said. "In most families, both parents are working."
Oxford now has 24 paid-on-call members and, according to Scholz, "we can't go much below that."
"The paid-on-call are the backbone of the department," he said. "They respond to all fire calls, all medical calls, any kind of call for service that we have."
During medical calls, they help treat patients and drive the ambulances to the hospital. During fire calls, they drive needed engines and tankers to the scene and help battle the flames.
"Our guys get to do everything from helping deliver a baby to extricating people from cars (involved) in accidents to fighting fires to (dealing with) storm damage," Scholz said.
Ideally, the chief would like to add 10 to 12 more paid-on-call members to the staff.
"It's a chance to get involved with the community," he said. "It gives you a chance to give back."
The position also provides experience, education, self-fulfillment and the opportunity to create relationships and bonds as "strong as family" with fellow department members. "It's a close-knit group of people," Scholz said.
The paid-on-call shortage is negatively impacting the department.
It's putting a lot of stress on existing fire personnel having to respond to so many calls, according to Scholz.
"Our run volume is increasing," he said.
Last year, the department responded to 1,955 calls. Of those, 1,628 were medical-related and 327 were fire calls.
That's up 79.85 percent from 2006, when the department had 1,087 calls – 877 medical and 210 fire.
Because 83 percent of the calls are medical-related, they are much more time-consuming as most involve transporting patients to the hospital.
"It's no longer a one-hour call," Scholz said. "Now, it's a two-hour call."
Scholz said he has some paid-on-call members who are responding to three to five calls a day and putting in eight to nine hours as a result.
"It's wearing them out," he said. "It definitely tires the guys out."
Simply having a department staffed entirely by full-time, career firefighters is not a viable option for Oxford, according the chief.
It all boils down to money.
"If we were to have this same service provided by all full-time people, then we would have to have probably 10 to 12 people on staff every single day, 24-7," Scholz said.
At that point, the department would require a total of 40 full-time firefighters as opposed to the 13 it has now including the chief.
That would be very costly.
Between wages and fringe benefits, a single full-time firefighter can cost the department between $105,000 and $110,000 per year, according to Scholz.
"There's no way the community could afford to pay to have that kind of a service," he said.
Becoming a paid-on-call staff member requires a significant commitment of time.
It takes 120 hours of class just to become certified as a basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and approximately 240 hours of instruction to become a firefighter.
Add to that all the department's in-house training and Scholz said "it takes probably a year-and-a-half" before a paid-on-call staffer is able to run calls and drive vehicles.
And it doesn't end there. Every Monday night, all department personnel must attend a mandatory training meeting that takes approximately three hours.
"You know right up-front that basically your Mondays are tied up," Scholz said.
Right now, all of Oxford's paid-on-call staffers are cross-trained as both firefighters and EMTs.
But given the high volume of medical calls, Scholz is willing to accept people who are just interested in becoming EMTs.
Paid-on-call staff receive an hourly wage based on their level of education/training and number of years with the department.
Hourly wages range from $10.23 to $19.18.
They only receive pay for time spent responding to calls and participating in training.
There are always opportunities for advancement within the department, even potential careers.
Today's new paid-on-call staffer could become tomorrow's chief.
That's how Scholz started.
He joined the department as a paid-on-call member in 1976.
"At that time you couldn't even get on unless somebody either retired or left the department," Scholz said. "There was never an opening back then."
Scholz rose through the paid-on-call ranks and in January 2008, he became the full-time deputy chief. Nine months later, he was hired as the full-time fire chief when Jack LeRoy retired.
Applications to become a paid-on-call firefighter/EMT or just an EMT 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 standard 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.