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Akron Fire Department estimates $1M in unexpected overtime, equipment costs

Akron Fire Chief Joseph Natko speaks to city council
Akron City Council
Akron Fire Chief Joseph Natko (second from left) details concerns to Akron City Council about potentially needing to request more funding to cover overtime costs. Natko addressed council members during the public safety committee meeting on Sept. 25, 2023.

Nearly two months after parting ways with a private ambulance service that had served the city for decades, Akron’s fire department may need more than $921,000 in additional funds to cover unexpected overtime costs and to add an additional ambulance to the fleet.

Fire Chief Joseph Natko flagged the concerns during a presentation to Akron City Council’s public safety committee meeting Monday.

The issues stem from the city ending its contract with a private ambulance service, American Medical Response, at the end of July, which resulted in an increased workload, Natko said. Previously, AMR had handled half of the department’s hospital transports, he said.

On top of that, there have been months-long delays in hiring and onboarding new employees.

“Up to now, we’ve been within budget; we’ve maintained everything as we’ve needed,” Natko told council members. “But, we’re going to run into an issue where we have to come to you for additional funds for overtime, in order to keep moving like we’re moving now, with the staff we have in place now.”

Since 1978, AMR provided the transportation service at no cost to Akron and made money by billing the insurance of the transported patients.

Earlier this year, AMR officials told the department they could no longer agree to the no-cost service and asked for an $11 million contract over 5 years – which the city declined.

Akron EMS employees have picked up overtime shifts to handle the increased workload, but the department’s overtime budget will soon run out, Natko added.

With flu season on the horizon, he does not expect to have enough staff and equipment to meet demands. At many of the fire stations, there are not enough employees to staff both the fire trucks and ambulances, he said.

“In other words, if an ambulance goes on a run, a fire truck is out of service. If a fire truck goes on a run, an ambulance is out of service, and we can’t get there,” Natko said.

Under the city's 2023 budget, the department was approved to have nearly 400 employees on staff, Natko added. They're working to hire new paramedics to get to that level, but training can take 10 months to complete, Natko added.

They were also approved to add three new medical units to the fleet this year, but only one has been added so far.

They’re in the process of securing a second ambulance, but it will not be in service until next month, he said.

The department is waiting to hear back on a grant that could fund three new ambulances, but that wouldn’t fix the issues in the meantime, Natko added.

“Even if we receive that grant, it’s going to take us up to two years to get those ambulances in our fleet and part of the circulation. So right now, we’re limping along,” Natko said.

Steve Fricker, Akron’s finance director, plans to do “some number crunching” and see where they might be able to find the funds under the city’s current budget, he said. The fire department is currently under budget, he said.

They could also consider taking money from the city’s reserves, Fricker said.

“That’s something that we do not like to do. We’ve worked hard to build up a pretty good reserve, over the past couple of years, basically utilizing the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act] funding that we’ve received,” Fricker said. “We can do that as a last resort, but I think we need to look at what our remaining costs are for the remainder of the year.”

A safety plan for events at city parks

Council’s safety committee also discussed ongoing safety concerns at the city’s parks.

Councilmember Donnie Kammer, who represents Ward 7 on the city’s south side, introduced a resolution calling for all future community events that take place at the city’s parks to have a safety plan.

Kammer and other council members have raised concerns recently after several young people were shot during events at city parks over the summer.

Kammer suggested the groups would need to provide safety details, such as how many security officers are planned for the event, before city officials would approve the request for the event.

“It just puts more responsibility and work in regards to the community event applicants and makes them step up more and consider how important our parks are, and how important human life is,” Kammer said.

Council will vote on the resolution during its meeting next Monday.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.