Oswego Fire Chief Delivers His Operational Report

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie laid his cards on the table. Now it is up to the Common Council to deal the hand.

At Monday night’s Administrative Services Committee meeting, the fire chief delivered his operational and feasibility study regarding his department. The report is part of an initiative by the city to examine of its departments to ensure they are operating efficiently.

The council will now consider a variety of possible options. They can decide to decrease the number of firefighters, close the west side fire station, eliminate the ambulance service or other alternatives.

Several changes have been made in the last few years with the primary objective being to keep the level of service the same while reducing the cost of departmental overtime, the chief pointed out.

Among them are:

  • Reduced total manpower from 64 firefighter/paramedics to 58
  • Reduced minimum staffing from 12 to 11
  • Sold one reserve engine, thereby reducing maintenance costs
  • Negotiated with the city to reduce the number of personal days allowed from three to two

McCrobie said he’s comfortable with decreasing the number of firefighters from 60 to 58.

The west side station is important because of its location, the chief said. There are a lot of residential properties on the west side as well as Oswego Hospital and the city’s downtown, he added.

Total cost to operate the west side station is $11,250 a year, according to the chief.

“In 2013, there were 1,804 alarms on the west side,” he said. “My strong recommendation for the safety of the residents of Oswego is that the west side fire station stay open.”

Things that have an impact of response times (going from the west to the east side) include bridge work, accidents / traffic and the weather among others, he pointed out.

The chief noted that the minimum staffing per 100 calls is 0.41, national average; 0.33 the state average; and 0.27 for Oswego.

Figures for minimum staffing in CNY per call received are 0.27 per 100 calls for Oswego. The average is 0.30.

By comparison, Fulton is nearly 0.35, Watertown is about 0.36, Syracuse and Auburn are slightly more than 0.20.

He also explained about the expected ambulance revenue for 2014.

The billable ambulance calls for 2013 were 3,102. Expected 2014 ambulance calls based on monthly average is 3,175, he said. The average collected amount per ambulance call is $344. So, the expected ambulance revenue for this year is $1,092,200.

That would mean a net loss of $350,999 by privatizing the ambulance service and maintaining a nine-man minimum staffing, he pointed out.

Other considerations of privatizing the ambulance service, the chief said, include no control over level of EMS transport service available to the city residence, no control over where the ambulance will be responding from and response times to incidents, no control over future increases in service fees or contract costs.

The chief identified some cost saving options.

  • Further develop light duty work responsibilities for injured firefighters to put them back to work
  • Develop methods to reduce overtime expenses by exploring alterative utilization of personnel through scheduling
  • Research energy saving initiatives
  • Pursue inter-municipal purchase agreements

It is up to the council to make the best possible decision in the interest of public safety, Council President Ron Kaplewicz said.

“The fire department has made great strides in reducing the amount of overtime,” he said.

He asked the chief about what it meant to the city now that the fire department has no longer been providing ambulance service to the surrounding towns.

“We lost revenue. No doubt we lost revenue. It’s a direction (the council) wanted to take and I’m comfortable with it. We are providing better protection for those people that are inside the cocoon of the city of Oswego,” the chief replied. “We are not sending people to various locations of the towns for what we thought was not enough for what the value was for what we were doing out in the towns. As far as protection for the people inside the city that are paying the bills, I get it.”

Councilor Bill Barlow asked what exactly was the proposal for restructuring the department.

It will be whatever the council agrees upon, Council Vice President Eric VanBuren replied.

Kaplewicz said Monday night’s meeting was the first step in getting information to the public.

“Now we can all digest it and ask questions, get more information,” he said. “Then, our options will become more clear.”

Councilor Mike Myers suggested setting a date for council action on the matter.

“We can have another discussion and then take it to the full council,” Kaplewicz said. “We can schedule it for the April 21 committee meeting.”

“We are more than open to any and all questions and comments,” Chief McCrobie said.

Members of the public can reach him at his office (343-2161) or by email at [email protected]

To learn more about the report, go to ofd13126.com