OC chief makes pitch for another firefighter

VE-Around-County
By JUDITH O. ETZEL
Contributing writer

The City of Oil City needs to add another firefighter to its force in an effort to compensate for a lack of sufficient part-time firefighters and the potential upcoming retirements of two others.

That was city fire Chief Mark Hicks’ pitch to Oil City Council members at a meeting Thursday.

“We are down to 13 (firefighters) now and while I understand the finances of the city, we are very short on part-time people,” said the chief, adding that hiring another full-time firefighter could “keep our overtime costs down.”

So far this year, the fire department has registered 24,000-plus overtime hours due to personnel issues, he said.

Alluding to city budget constraints, Hicks told council, “We want to take our manpower costs down but it is not the time to do it now.”

Hiring personnel who are also certified paramedics is becoming difficult, he said.

Hicks referred to Sam McSparren, a paramedic and firefighter who has been a temporary full-time city employee for seven years. The chief, describing him as “gifted and qualified,” suggested he would be an ideal hire for the city.

However, cautioned Hicks, the city must go through the Civil Service hiring protocol and is not able to hire outside that framework.

Council approved submitting a request for Civil Service testing for an additional firefighter.

In a related matter, Hicks told council two current city firemen – Charlie Hoobler and Noel Bartlett – have successfully completed extensive paramedic training and are certified.

Ice boom, water supplies

Council also approved a proposal to go out for bids to remove, repair and re-install cables, shackles and clamps for the ice boom that crosses the Allegheny River just above Veterans Bridge.

The boom, first installed in 1982, consists of pontoons connected by steel cables to each side of the river. The string is designed to break up frazzle ice, or sludge ice, that would freeze and create an ice pack.

The boom prevents ice buildup by reducing the freeze depth and allows ice to move once the cover breaks up. A smaller version is installed on Oil Creek near Rynd Farm.

The city replaced much of a deteriorated river boom with a new device in 2013 at a cost of $525,000 for design, fabrication and installation. Federal and state grants paid for the project.

In 2015, extreme weather and a large buildup of ice caused shackles and clamps to fail on the boom. To fully repair the device, the city was awarded a $265,053 grant in 2016 from the state.

“We currently have all the components on hand,” said retired city fire chief Steve Hinds at Thursday’s meeting. “The issue is now finding a vendor to do the (installation) work for us.”

Of the grant amount, about $122,000 remains for the installation project, he said.

In another topic related to city materials, Jason Herman, director of city water services, received approval from council to purchase about $55,000 in water materials for year-long maintenance.

The contract will go to L/B Water Services Inc. of Stoneboro.

Personnel issues addressed

Council approved the hiring of two new city police officers. Named to the force were Codie Webster and Tom Lawton.

Both patrolmen have completed a 12-month probationary period.

Three resignations on city boards were received by council.

Dan and Patty Feroz submitted their resignations from the Oil City Arts Council, effective at the end of the year. Both have been active members for more than 20 years.

“(We) will continue to advocate for the arts here in Oil City,” said the couple.

David Mayer stepped down from the city’s Planning Commission. Two open seats remain on the panel and interested persons may contact city hall for more information.

Kathy Kropp-Schiller of Siverly was appointed to the city’s Shade Tree Commission. She and her husband moved to Oil City in 2012 and are restoring a home in Siverly.

Events are planned

– Council approved a request from the Oil City YWCA to use city playgrounds for the Samuel Justus summer playground program. Now in its 40th year, the program will be held June 11 through July 27 and will feature arts and crafts, contests and sporting events.

The venues include the YWCA, Hasson Park, Land of Laughter playground on Harriott Avenue, East End Playground and the Innis Street play area. Evan Basham is the program director.

– A request to use the Mitchell Avenue and Hasson Heights softball fields now through late fall was approved by council. Vicky London said softball will be played Monday through Friday and some weekend tournaments are also scheduled.

– The Venango Fatherhood Initiative received permission to use Central Avenue on July 13 for the 16th annual Soapbox Derby.

– Approval was given to the Venango Vipers softball team to use the lower softball field near the Land of Laughter Playground on Mitchell Avenue now through October.

Heidi Siler, president of the Venango Vipers, told council the organization painted the bleachers and did maintenance on the fields during its use of the playgrounds last year.

Donation received

Mayor Bill Moon announced the city has received a $500 check from Petrolia Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, of Oil City for the rehabilitation of the Land of Laughter playground on Harriott Avenue.

The playground, located on the site of the former Lincoln School, will be refurbished with new equipment and improved landscaping this spring.