The authorization to hire a temporary office position and the creation of a full-time firefighter position were approved on Tuesday, July 6 by the Newton City Council, which the city says will help alleviate some of the workload of administrative staff and fill vacancies in the fire department.
Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik sent the city administrator a memo in June to request temporary office staff, noting the department’s shortage of personnel in the administrative office. At the time of the memo, one staff member was on leave for a serious health condition.
Wellik told Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler that the fire department is a big business with 26 full-time employees, a budget of about $3.5 million and large numbers of administrative functions completed on a daily basis. Normally, the administrative office of the fire station has three employees.
“The office is staffed by an administrative specialist who manages the office and manages many of the long-term affiliations needed to conduct ambulance business,” Wellik said, noting the specialist with more than 20 years experience is also responsible for training the administrative assistants.
Two administrative assistants also work at the fire station; one is responsible for ambulance billing and the second is primarily responsible for the daily operations of the commercial business/property inspection program. Currently, the fire chief and assistant fire chief are filling in.
Errors or omissions could result in the inability to function as an ambulance service, Wellik said, so the stakes are high.
“With all administrative staff filling in to cover other duties, administrative staff is falling behind in the designated duties,” Wellik said. “I can attest to this personally as I have been handling all of the administrative functions of the candidate testing process and the ensuing hiring of employees.”
Administrative staff are “falling more behind each day,” the fire chief added.
The temporary administrative assistant position will work 40 hours per week. Although Wellik said he couldn’t provide a definitive timeframe for the coverage of the position, he expects to have more answers by fall and offered to provide monthly updates to review the status of the continued absence.
“While a temporary person will not be able to replace an office manager with years of experience, they will certainly provide enough support to keep the office running,” Wellik said.
Estimated hourly wages for office support staff is between $13-$18 per hour. The Newton Fire Department proposed to advertise at that rate depending upon qualifications. At 40 hours per week, the net pay would range from $520-$740 per week or $2,080-$2,880 per month.
The position would only last three months, so roughly $6,240-$8,640 in costs. Elected officials agreed a new hire was needed. Councilperson Evelyn George said, “This is a critical position that requires a lot of time.”
Councilperson Dean Stonner, who also serves as chairman of Newton’s Employee Relations Committee, said there has been a longtime absence of a critical person and that existing employees have been “scrambling” to cover the bases. The ERC voted unanimously to bring this action to council.
“It just can’t continue at this pace,” Stonner said. “We really need this covered.”
The same was said for the creation of another firefighter position. Currently, the fire department has two open positions and has made offers to two candidates. The city also has four viable candidates for an entry-level firefighter/EMT position.
However, staff anticipates another opening in November due to a retirement.
Now that the extra fire fighter position has been approved, staffing levels on crews will move to eight on one crew and seven on the other two. The hiring process for firefighters takes approximately 90 days to complete. However, the fire department is receiving lower numbers of applicants.
Wellik said in a memo to Muckler that departments nationwide are reporting low candidate pools as a growing trend.
Creating the position would also provide some “key advantages,” Wellik said. It would allow the fire department to capitalize on its current list and hire candidates before they are hired elsewhere. It would also let the new hire enroll in the paramedic program this fall and complete it in two years’ time.
Again, this matter was brought before the ERC.
“Positions such as these, candidates such as these are becoming like gold,” Stonner said. “They are as rare as hen’s teeth as my mother would’ve said … This is tough work and these people do get injured. We had two or three people out on injuries and they didn’t have the coverage they needed.
“This additional position as it’s envisioned would be something of a floater to cover situations like that. So the ERC does recommend the full council that we approve this position.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org