Trustees approve new handbook for part-time firefighters

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — The Benton Township Fire Department has a new employee handbook, which was updated to include part-time firefighters.

Superintendent Elden Piontek said the handbook was updated because the township is considering supplementing the fire department with part-timers after two full-time firefighters retire.

Piontek said the change in the fire department could happen later than expected, depending on decisions by two firefighters who will soon be eligible for retirement.

“We have two (firefighters) that could possibly leave in December, but we don’t know if they will or not,” Piontek said. “There isn’t exactly a timetable for this. The idea is to bring in the part timers and save on fringe benefit costs.”

Because they are not union members, Piontek said the township also updated the handbook because there were no guidelines for being a part-time firefighter.

“That’s why the handbook sets the rules and regulations they would operate under,” Piontek said. “It sets the number of hours they could work in a two-week period, what fringe benefits they would get like prorated vacations and sick time.”

Township officials have been working on the handbook for a couple of months between drafts and the review process.

Fire Chief Dan Durham said a few items were changed from the previous employee handbook to coincide with part-time work shift hours.

The handbook sets a maximum amount of 120 hours a month scheduled for part-time firefighters. The max limit leaves a 10-hour window to go over, in case there is an emergency that requires a firefighter’s assistance after they go over their allotted hours.

“The handbook is essentially the same as full-time firefighters, only they don’t have the same benefit packages,” Durham said. “We left ourselves some leeway there with the 10-hour window, so someone doesn’t have to leave in the middle of a fire.”

Finding part-timers

The application process for the fire department began last summer when the township received 26 applications for part-time firefighters.

Durham said they narrowed the list of part-time candidates down to seven.

“We’ve never had part-time firefighters – we have reserve firefighters,” Durham said. “The reserves only come when we have a fire call or for training purposes. A part-time firefighter would actually be on duty at the station, but their hours would be under that of a full-timer.”

Piontek said there is no solid number for how many part-time firefighters the township will take on. He said the township will try to match how ever many hours the two full-time firefighters put in on a monthly basis. Piontek said the township would work with Durham and the township’s executive committee to determine how many will be hired.

Durham said it is difficult to say, but estimates it would take two part-time firefighters to fill a full-time slot for the amount of hours kept.

“The problem would be with the eligible people and if they are interested in a part-time position. I don’t see somebody leaving a full-time position somewhere else for a part-time one here,” Durham said. “A full-time firefighter puts in 212 hours in a 28-day work period. It would take two part-time employees each working at the 120-hour max to fill that of one person – and that’s if they were available to work the full 120 hours.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 22, 2015)

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