OSWEGO, NY – Several members of the Oswego Fire Department, along with a couple hundred of their friends, held a public rally outside City Hall on Thursday evening (Aug. 11) to raise awareness about the impending cuts to the department and the potential loss of services that may follow.
“We are supported here today by not only our members, local firefighters and their families from across Central New York, other unions and members of the public,” John Geraci, president of the Oswego Firefighters’ Association, told Oswego County Today.”
They have “a ton of support,” he said indicating the huge crowd in Civic Plaza, adding that there were several pro OFD signs around the city.
The union leader takes umbrage at the cuts are justified due to firefighters padding their pensions by working overtime.
“We lost eight people in the last five years. Overtime’s been reduced by more than 50 percent. As far as I’m concerned, if they are trying to point out that anyone that is enrolled in a retirement system that allows overtime to be calculated … if they’re trying to save that they worked overtime in those years, well, yeah. That’s like finding out there is gambling in Vegas,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned that’s an effort to take away from the real issue.”
The issue, he pointed out is the city is trying to balance a million dollar deficit on the backs of the Oswego Fire Department.
“If the process works right and we inform the community and the community informs (the council) what they want, then hopefully the right thing can come out of all this,” Geraci said. “They can’t raise taxes, we understand that. All we’re asking is that is if the city’s in a crunch, you can’t make up a $960,000 deficit on one department; especially when the one department provides all the emergency services to the city of Oswego. And that one department is already taxed with the duties that we have.”
Ultimately, in working with the council and administration, Geraci hopes they can avoid the layoffs by arming the administration with the appropriate facts and figures, proving that cutting into the OFD’s daily staffing is inappropriate, unsafe and unnecessary.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the show of support today,” Geraci said.
“We understand there is an economic crisis in the city right now,” Firefighter John Coughlin said. ”But by cutting the fire department by 27 percent is not the way to go.”
“The department is all for meeting with the council. Whatever the city needs, we’ll be behind them 100 percent. But they’re taking away the future from these 16 guys. Some of them are just starting families, with kids on the way,” he added.
Clark Stacks has been with OFD “in four days it will be exactly five years.”
“We’ve got to find different ways to go about this. Laying off people is ridiculous. There are other ways (the city) can go about doing this. I understand the city is in a tough spot; but to put all the weight on our shoulders isn’t right,” he said.
At 37 years old, Stacks said he is at a point where he could still find another job as a fireman.
“But, it’s going to be a lot tougher for me than the young kids I’d be going against,” he added.
The mayor suggested the 16 firefighters could possibly come back as part-time employees.
Would that be an option for Stacks?
“Absolutely not,” he replied without hesitation.
“This is my town. I grew up in this town. I love this town,” another firefighter said.
It takes a lot of work to get the job, and you have to at least be a medic to get hired, he explained. So that means another year to 18 months of schooling.
“We really bust our butts to get this job,” he said. “For someone to say you’re not going to have this job in six month is pretty hard to handle.”
Also on hand to show support were reps from CSEA, the Oswego County Labor Council and Oswego Classroom Teachers’ Association.
“They need to sit down at the table and figure out how to work it out without compromising the safety of the community by cutting the firefighters’ workforce,” said Jim Jackson, CSEA rep for the Oswego City School District.
“When I pick up the phone, I want to know that on the other end of that phone is somebody who knows what they’re doing. I want one of those (OFD) guys. They know what they’re doing. I want a firefighter that’s been trained,” added Casey Walpole, president of the Oswego County Labor Council. “I want somebody that I know and trust to come if I need an ambulance or a fire truck.”
“There is no way to describe how much I love my job. It’s the best job in the world,” said Firefighter Anthony Sterio, one of the firefighters to respond to the recent blaze on East Cayuga Street where an adult, two young children and family pets were rescued from the burning building. “Had we not had the manpower, I think the outcome would have been very different.”
The 25-year-old will have been on the job three years this October.
“My heart sank to the floor,” he said about learning he may lose his job.
The mayor said the cuts won’t hamper safety. But Geraci disagrees.
“When you cut a department by 27 percent,” he said, it does hinder safety for the firefighters and the public.
“It’s in our nature to do with what we have the best we can. And that’s what we’re doing,” he added. “We hope that we can sit down with them, get with the council, sharpen their pencils and they can lessen the affects on the one department that’s going to suffer in this whole thing. I don’t envy them. They can’t raise taxes in this town, we get that. But there has got to be a better way than sending 16 of some of the best guys and gals I know home. These last couple days I felt like we’re in a fire minus the flames and the building. The way you guys have stepped up and supported each other makes me proud to be here!”
Members of the council attended a budget workshop inside City Hall Thursday night.