CONNEAUT — A citizens committee charged with examining the operations of the Conneaut Fire Department will convene its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, said City Council President Thomas Udell.

Seven people — each recommended by a member of council — will study the department to see whether its budget can be trimmed. The group works under no timetable.

The panel, with the councilman who recommended them in parenthesis, consists of Bill Kennedy (Udell), Richard Showalter (Ward 1 Councilman Dave Campbell), Bim Orrenmaa (Ward 2 Councilman Charles Lewis), Jim Supplee (Ward 3 Councilman Greg Mooney), David Arp (Ward 4 Councilman Tony “Dino” Julio); Catherine Glosser (Councilman-at-large John Roach) and Michael Bambarger (Councilman-at-large Robert Naylor).

The committee was suggested by Naylor with the goal of studying the fire/ rescue service to see whether costs can be cut. The group plans to investigate every aspect of the department, which includes full-time and on-call firefighters and emergency medical responders.

The group includes two people with an extensive background in fire/ rescue service. Orrenmaa is a former Conneaut fire chief who served 21 years before retiring in May 2009, while Arp is a retired career firefighter.

Showalter served several years on council, while Supplee is a member of the Conneaut Township Park Board of Commissioners.

The committee will convene its first meeting nearly one year after city administrators authorized a reorganization of the department. The overhaul was done in part to improve efficiency and to obtain some $300,000 in ambulance service revenues used to salvage the depleted general fund.

As a result of the overhaul, Fire Station 4 on the city’s west side was closed, its equipment transferred to Fire Station 3. Also, Fire Station 1, home to the city’s full-time firefighters, became the city’s primary firefighting and ambulance response station.

The department’s nine full-time firefighters are wary of the motives behind the formation of the committee and suspect they may be in the cross-hairs. A lengthy report given by Naylor at a recent meeting on the cost of maintaining full-time firefighters fueled the speculation.

Last week, Naylor objected to the proposed appointment of assistant fire chief Mike Castrilla, a full-time firefighter, to the committee, comparing it to “letting the fox guard the henhouse.” Castrilla could not serve because the panel excludes city employees.

At Monday’s meeting, Julio said he approached Castrilla about serving, not the other way around, adding Naylor owed Castrilla an apology. Naylor did not respond.

“I will show a little class, and respect the appointments of other council members,” Julio said.

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