At Less Than a Dollar a Year, ‘West Side Fire Service is a Value’

By John Geraci
In less time than it will take for you to read this column, a structure fire can flash over, or a victim of a health emergency or accident can move from stable to critical condition.

Or, as the result of a timely response, property is saved, or a family’s loss averted.

This very simple notion is the first of many reasons why I, on behalf of the 18,000

people of the city of Oswego, strongly oppose the mayor’s proposed cuts to the fire department’s 2013 budget.

If it is passed, Mayor Gillen’s budget would force the closure of the west side fire station – one of only two stations serving the city of Oswego.

The houses are separated by the Oswego River, and the two bridges that span it.

This budget-reduction proposal is unwise and short-sighted, and will no doubt result in inefficient fire- and emergency-service delivery while decreasing the department’s ability to protect residents and property.

So far this year, firefighters responded to more than 1,900 calls to the west side.

This part of the city is home to a majority of the city’s population and most of our higher-risk buildings and businesses, including the Oswego Hospital, the steam station, SUNY Oswego, several senior-living facilities, as well as nursing homes, City Hall, and
our downtown.

Overall, city-wide call volume has increased by 73 percent, from roughly 3,000 calls 10 years ago to a projected 5,200 by the end of this year.

Closing the west side station would save the city about $10,000 in utility costs, or
roughly 75 cents annually per resident. Simply put, that is a risk-reward ratio that is not only out of balance – it’s unacceptable.

Under current staffing levels, first-responders often are spread very thin.

On average, the Oswego Fire Department responds to a call every 96 minutes, and often, multiple calls deplete crews and leave the fire houses empty.

Additional reductions in current staffing levels will result in diminished response times or lack of necessary resources at the scene.

Five years ago, the city was faced with a similar proposed budget cut.

Then, city officials, with the assistance of an independent consultant, conducted an operational analysis of the fire department.

After evaluating the city’s needs, the firm concluded that reductions in services or staff within the fire department or ambulance service were not justified.

The findings in the report, including the rationale for keeping two fire houses open in a city of Oswego’s size and geography, remain valid today.

Firefighters understand the financial hardships the city of Oswego faces, and we will continue to identify responsible cost-cutting measures.

However, additional cuts, including the closure of an important fire house, are not in the best interest of our community.

I ask residents to voice their concerns with the city’s elected leaders and help us maintain the resources and services to protect Oswego’s people and property.

In the business of first response, answering the call quickly, efficiently and skillfully is our top priority.

At an annual cost of less than a dollar per person, it’s a prudent price to pay.

Geraci is president of the Oswego Firefighters’ Association