Budget-busting overtime might be a thing of the past, and South Shore Fire Chief Robert Stedman is hoping to keep it that way in part by reducing staffing at Station 9 in Sturtevant when necessary.

The chief presented his idea last week to the Fire/EMS Oversight Committee and members unanimously voted to approve Stedman’s plan.

Stedman and SSFD Division Chief Mark Pierce told Sturtevant trustees Tuesday the department used 129 overtime shifts during the first two months of 2013. But, since implementing staffing changes late last year – coupled with hiring new fire fighters – filling overtime shifts has been reduced in 2014 to just 24-1/2 for the same time frame.

Last December, Stedman made the decision to close Station 7 in the Lake Park neighborhood and re-deploy personnel to the remaining two stations in Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant, respectively, as well as the shared station with Caledonia on Highway K. Stedman also re-organized the department so three-man medical crews were reduced to two at Station 8 and brought down the total number staff during each of three shifts to 15 from 16, including command staff.

The 2013 overtime budget for South Shore was $238,000, but the department came in some $350,000 over that mark. Overtime budgeted for 2014 comes to $306,000, and Stedman said he is proposing some short-term staff changes at Station 9 to help not go over that amount this year.

“I’m proposing that if we have a fire fighter out for a long time that we reduce med unit crews from two to three,” he said. “I’m not proposing we do this all the time, but monitor situations so we can adjust right away because we can’t afford to go over our overtime budget.”

Two-person med units are the industry standard, Stedman added.

Trustee Chris Wright and Sturtevant President Steve Jansen voiced concern over the plan and asked about using part-time staffers to fill gaps. They used the Sturtevant Police Department as an example to bolster their argument: SPD has been using part-time officers because a full-time officer has been out on long-term medical leave.

Stedman pushed back, though, saying training, qualifications and pension considerations are not insignificant.

“I feel some stubbornness from Mount Pleasant to not look at part-time,” Jansen said. “I know this might ruffle union feathers, but tough as long as people have the skills … It’s time to get creative.”

Stedman does not require the boards of either Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant to approve his plan since the OK from the Oversight Committee is enough, according to the 2009 consolidation agreement that created the department.

“We have to remember this is only if necessary,” Trustee John Johnson, a committee member, pointed out. “We can object if (Stedman’s plan) becomes more permanent.”

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