Cost-cutting measure becomes financial obstacle
Lt. Brandton Romberger leads his crew of firefighters into a drill using dry ice to recreate a smokfilled room.| Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 25, 2013 9:16AM
MUNDELEIN — Thorough training has turned a cost-cutting measure into a financial obstacle for the Mundelein Fire Department.
Seven firefighters/paramedics are contracted through Metro Paramedic Services to help the fire department save money on salaries and benefits. They are dispersed among three 10-person shifts.
After being trained in Mundelein, however, many of them leave to take full-time jobs elsewhere, causing the department to train a replacement.
Fire Chief Tim Sashko said newly assigned contract workers get between 85 and 100 hours of initial training, followed by an additional 250 to 300 hours of more intense training.
“To put a dollar amount on the salary invested in training, it costs anywhere between $9,300 and $11,400,” Sashko said. “We save about $13,000 in salary and benefits per year by contracting the service versus paying an entry-level, base full-time pay.”
Retaining contract workers saves the village in two ways: annual raises and less training expenses.
Mundelein is one of few departments that trains its contract workers to full-time standards.
“We train to that level because when we respond to your home, you shouldn’t be able to distinguish a full-time employee from a part-time employee from a contract employee,” Sashko said. “We want a balance across our crews that instills safety for our residents.”
In the five years Sashko has been fire chief, he said 27 people have been hired for those seven positions and 21 of them have moved on. He said most of those 21 employees who came and went stayed between 14 and 20 months each. The training takes nearly 12 months.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve paid the equivalent of $40,000 in training for each of those seven positions so that we could save $13,000 per job,” Sashko said.
Hoping to even the three shifts and have two contract employees on each crew, instead of one shift with three, Sashko asked the Mundelein Village Board on Jan. 14 to add another full-time position to the fire department. He lobbied by saying the turnover is too costly and disruptive.
Village Trustee Ed Sullivan had questions about what duties contract workers are allowed to do.
Sashko said contract workers cannot do engineering-related work, such as truck management and hydraulics. If the department could keep steady contract workers, then he would advance their training in the lower-level work, he said.
Regarding pay, Sashko told Sullivan that all the agencies pay far less than average fire department salaries and career-minded individuals use the agencies to build resumes.
Trustees ultimately voted 6-0 to provide the department with an extra firefighter. The new hire will begin next week.