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Streator considers part-time firefighters

There were few seats remaining at Streator City Hall as the council looked at ways to reduce its pension obligations and manage long-term employee costs.

The city council examined a number of potential solutions including taking code enforcement responsibilities out of the fire department, which would be handled by Safebuilt, a national company introduced to Streator last June.

This would eliminate the existing minimum manning requirement, reduce overtime costs and allow the hiring of part-time firefighters.

Negotiations dilemma

The Streator fire department union posted on its Facebook page inviting the public to attend. The post stated the decision could cause danger to both citizens and firefighters, and inviting the public to "tell our city to stop bullying the firefighters through threats of reduced services to our citizens."

City Manager Scot Wrighton addressed online discussions stating the city is not attacking the fire department and attempted to discuss part-time work during negotiations. He said the union "walked away" from the bargaining table, terminated mediation and demanded arbitration.

"The union took the position that the city shouldn't be allowed to talk about it with an arbitrator. We believe we should," Wrighton said.

Councilman Joe Scarbeary, an active member of the Streator fire department, took exception with Wrighton's version of events.

"You keep saying we 'walked away.' I look at it as both sides couldn't get along, we went to mediation and now we're going to arbitration," Scarbeary said. "That's the process. It ain't the first time."

Wrighton reiterated it was the fire union that said: "We're done, this is over."

The answer to their dilemma will come from a hearing officer in the labor department.

'Extra eyes' already on community

Councilman Brian Crouch brought the discussion back to the code enforcement and Councilman Ed Brozak expressed satisfaction with how it is currently set up.

"I think the fire department is doing a heckuva job with this and I like having extra eyes for all these guys living in the community," Brozak said. "They know where the problems are and they see those things. It's been working well."

The financial gain by switching to Safebuilt is not known as further research is required.

Scarbeary said part-timers would likely not live in the community. He also brought the conversation to the risks associated to change by asking retired firefighter Willy Williamson.

Williamson said he recalls working with light staff due to attrition in the late '80s, which he attributed to Wrighton's early work with the city.

"It's a horrible situation to have to face a fire someone is dying in and you don't have the manpower to do the work," Williamson said.

Further research will be brought before the council.

Community service officers

The council also assessed the use of outsourced community service officers in the police department.

Wrighton said not all tasks require "a badge and a gun," such as citizen interactions and lockouts. The use of CSOs could also reduce employees going into pension plans.

Brozak asked Chief Kurt Pastirik if CSOs would be useful in Streator.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Brozak, it's too premature for me to comment on that right now," Pastirik said. "To my knowledge, CSOs are primarily used in northern suburban areas. It's too premature right now for me."

Councilwoman Tara Bedei expressed interest in seeing how many calls could be handled by a CSO compared to a police officer.

The council was interested in further researching the use of CSOs in Streator.

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