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Cornelius News

New vision for fire department relies on full-timers

Fire Chief Guerry Barbee

June 29. By Dave Vieser. The town is gearing up to staff its two fire stations with full-time staffers, transitioning from part-time and volunteers who once chased the firetrucks in private vehicles to the fires.

The new Cornelius Town budget, which was approved on June 18, includes $186,930 to initiate the transition from part-time to career firefighters.

As of June 18, the Cornelius Fire Department was staffed by 78 active members: 68 are part-timers and 10 are volunteers. It will take years before the department is staffed with strictly career

Andrew Grant

firefighters and, even then, there may be a place for part-timers and volunteers.

A town-commissioned study released last year by the Center for Public Safety Management, based out of Washington, D.C., detailed the shortcomings of the current system.

“The analysis identified many concerns with our current hybrid staffing model of part-time and volunteer firefighters including gaps in staffing coverage, as well as overlapping calls that leave the town exposed to fire and medical emergencies,” said Town Manager Andrew Grant.

Grant said the report made it clear that the current staffing model is not sustainable.

Of equal importance, the change has the support of Fire Chief Guerry N. Barbee.

“The part-time staffing model has worked well for years,” Barbee said. “However, we are starting to see numerous issues with relying solely on part-timers.”

One of the major issues is firefighter burnout.

All of the part-time staff have full-time jobs elsewhere, such as in Charlotte. Some work 40-hour work weeks, others work 52-hour work weeks with their full-time jobs. As a result some of the firefighters are working anywhere from 60 to 90 hours per week on average.

“Working that many hours creates burnout in some employees,” Barbee said. “When this happens, many firefighters begin working fewer shifts at their part-time jobs, causing staffing shortages.”

Many part-time firefighters work at other career departments on weekend and holidays, making them reluctant to work additional shifts as a part-time firefighter at those times.

And when inclement weather strikes, many of the town’s part-time firefighters will be summoned to their full-time jobs to work mandatory overtime. When this happens, it could leave Cornelius short during times of high-call volume because of the weather.

Another concern is that part-time employees are handling full-time responsibilities. Many fire departments across the nation have full-time staff to handle administrative duties. Training staff, logistics, records management, scheduling, payroll and benefits are some of the administrative duties handled by the town’s part-time employees.

Both Grant and Barbee envision the department will be a mix of full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters as the transition unfolds.

Fast facts

  • Salary range will be $34,307 – $53,604.
  • Hiring will begin in 2021.
  • There is no residency requirement.
  • Part-timers and volunteers will be integral to the department during the transition.

Sources: Fire Chief Guerry N. Barbee and Town Manager Andrew Grant.