City Council to discuss new firefighter union contract

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Northern Star File Photo

Fire Truck is parked in the garage at the first DeKalb Fire House, 700 Pine St. 

Kierra Frazier, Managing Editor

DeKALB  – A collective bargaining agreement between the city and the DeKalb International Association of Firefighters Local 1236 will be up for a vote at Monday’s City Council Meeting. The contract up for approval would address staffing levels at the fire department. 

The current contract between the city and firefighter union expires Dec. 31, according to Monday’s City Council agenda. If approved, the new contract would begin on Jan. 1 and end Dec. 31, 2024. Monday’s City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St., in the Yusunas Meeting Room. 

The issue of the amount of staffing at the fire department was “singularly important throughout the negotiations,” according to the agenda. 

Daily, the current minimum staffing level at the fire department is 13 firefighters, according to the agenda. The low staffing number is affecting the rising call volume in relation to COVID-19 to perform emergency medical services.

The number of EMS calls handled by DeKalb firefighters and paramedics has been increasing 10% per year apart from COVID-related calls, which represented less than 20% of the overall calls in 2020, according to a Wednesday City of DeKalb Facebook post

By FY24, the department would have an established minimum of 16 firefighters in a shift if the contract is approved, according to the agenda. 

“The proposed contract offers a gradual, long-term path to remedy the staffing shortage,” City Manager Bill Nicklas said in the Facebook post. “It will result in a dramatic reduction in annual overtime.”

Due to such a current low staffing level, firefighters are often called back in for a shift to fill the necessary personnel for the next ambulance or fire call, according to the agenda. 

The proposed contract projects overtime costs would fall from almost $1.3 million this year to as low as $500,000 in 2024 as staffing increases, according to the Facebook post. 

The firefighter union also agreed to no pay increase in 2021 to help pay for the additional staffing. Going forward, the city also plans to work with city unions to reduce health insurance premium costs.

“The proposed fire contract offers a bold design built on a unique labor-management collaboration over multiple years,” Nicklas said.