Springfield union upset with move to ‘lower the standard’ for hiring


The city of Springfield lowered the passing grade for its most recent written civil service test given to firefighter applicants, a move the firefighters union called insulting and said lowers hiring standards.

The cutoff line was reduced for this test only because the city has seen such a drop in applicants, Springfield Personnel Director Jeff Rodgers said. It won’t result in the hiring of unqualified candidates, he said.

Last month 32 people applied for up to 11 positions open with the fire division by June and 28 took the civil service test — a 77 percent decrease in applications and a 75 percent drop in examinations from 2013.

MORE: Springfield police, fire struggling to recruit, retain employees

Every prospective firefighter for the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division must pass a written exam. The minimum score typically had been set at 70 percent, Rodgers said.

After the last civil service test in January, city staff members and its testing consultant recommended lowering the passing grade to 66 percent to create a bigger list of possible candidates for later this year, Rodgers said. The recommendation was approved last week by the Civil Service Commission.

“There’s no doubt that this is a lower turnout, so having a few more bodies over the line, it does help,” Rodgers said. “We’re not going to hire anybody at the end of this process that’s unqualified. It’s just a matter of who gets over the line to start the process.”

The Springfield Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 333 strongly opposes the change, President Andrew Rigsbee told city commissioners this week.

“We believe that we’ve set a standard and we believe that standard is good,” he said. “It distresses us and insults us greatly that we’re now in the middle of a recruitment and retention problem and our answer is to lower the standard.”

The answer to getting enough firefighters and police officers isn’t lowering the standards, Rigsbee said. He spoke of a scenario where the entrance standards were lowered for both entry into medical school and passing the medical boards.

“Do you guys want to go to that doctor?” Rigsbee asked. “I don’t. … So now we’re lowering the standard for the people who come to your house during your darkest hour?”

RELATED: January record month for Clark County overdose deaths

It’s not acceptable for the city to place its current firefighters with people who couldn’t pass the same test they had to, he said.

The change was made without input from Springfield commissioners, Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“The civil service people don’t ask us for anything on that,” he said. “That was done without us.”

City staff members have the leeway to set the cutoff line for civil service tests and it has been lowered in the past, Rodgers said.

The Civil Service Commission followed the consultant and city’s recommendation to decrease the acceptable test score because of the low turnout, Civil Service Commission President Bruce Sigman said. It provides the city a bigger pool to draw from, he said, as well as a better chance for some applicants.

“It’s not something permanent,” he said.

Sigman wouldn’t have supported lowering the score any further.

Consultants recommended lowering the score, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said, but the difference wouldn’t affect the quality of applicants or lower the standard for employment.

MORE LOCAL STORIES: Read the latest news from Michael Cooper

“We’ve all taken tests in our lives and you know that any given day your score can vary a little bit,” he said. “A couple points here or there on a written test is not the real key.”

Before being hired, prospective firefighters are fully vetted in many other ways, Bodenmiller said, including an interview, physical agility test, a polygraph test, a background check, drug screening and a medical examination.

“We thoroughly vet and try to get the best people,” Bodenmiller said. “We’ve always hired good people. I would put our police, fire and all of our employees up against any.”

As the city has struggled financially, pay hasn’t kept up with other communities while the calls for service increase, Rigsbee said. Cities the size of Springfield typically have between 10,000 and 11,000 calls a year, he said, but Springfield sees 18,000.

Base pay for a firefighter/paramedic not in a leadership position tops out at about $58,000 annually, while the same position tops out at about $83,000 in Kettering.

“Now we’re starting to see people who are leaving for smaller departments and the primary driver seems to be better wages,” Rigsbee said.

SOCIAL MEDIA:FOLLOW REPORTER MICHAEL COOPER ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER.

Bodenmiller is confident the fire department will continue to be staffed with the best people. While Springfield’s benefits package is reasonably competitive with other cities, he said its pay is lower than other places and the city can’t raise wages due to its finances.

“We understand that,” Bodenmiller said. “There’s not a lot we can do with that.”

The city asked residents for an income tax increase in November and the issue was defeated at the polls. That led to the closure of both Fire Station No. 5 and the police substation on Johnny Lytle. It also cut about $100,000 in overtime from both the police and fire budgets.

A similar issue has been placed on the May ballot.

“It’s tough times and I think everybody is feeling all of that,” Bodenmiller said.

FIVE NEWS-SUN MUST READ STORIES

Clark County, Springfield ask where you want development to go

Springfield hopes to save money on $250M plan to stop sewer overflows

Four Springfield residents will vie for three commission seats

Clark County Fairgrounds moves forward with boat racing plans

Historic downtown Springfield site may become year-round marketplace



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

How could government shutdown affect Springfield residents?
How could government shutdown affect Springfield residents?

Some Springfield seniors said they’re worried about their Social Security benefits should the government shut down this week, but a local professor says the affect in the Miami Valley won’t be great if it’s short. A shutdown could occur if lawmakers can’t reach an agreement this week on funding the government at least in the...
House passes temporary budget bill in effort to avert shutdown
House passes temporary budget bill in effort to avert shutdown

House Republicans pushed through a bill Thursday to keep the federal open for another four weeks after GOP leaders promised to boost defense spending in a separate bill next month. By a vote of 230-to-197, the House sent the bill to Senate where Democrats have vowed to block it because it does not offer legal guarantees for the children of undocumented...
New Carlisle votes to put tax increase on ballot for fire division
New Carlisle votes to put tax increase on ballot for fire division

New Carlisle’s city council voted unanimously Wednesday to put a property tax increase on the May 8 ballot. The proposed 3-mill, five-year levy would support the city’s fire and EMS department. For a $100,000 home in Ohio, each mill costs $35, so the 3-mill levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 property an added $105 per year. In a special...
What if a government shutdown happened? Five things to know
What if a government shutdown happened? Five things to know

The federal government faces a partial federal shutdown threat Friday without a $1.1 trillion appropriations spending budget or a temporary stopgap spending measure in place. Here’s what could happen in the Miami Valley if a shutdown occurs: FURLOUGHS: A Wright-Patterson Air Force Base spokesman said this week the base had not received guidance...
Clark County approves 2 percent raises for workers
Clark County approves 2 percent raises for workers

Clark County commissioners approved raises for some county employees that will cost more than $200,000. The increase will be paid to non-collective bargaining unit employees who report to the commissioners. Union employees received a similar raise already, County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said. “Unemployment is low and everyone is competing for...
More Stories