Oswego Fire Department’s OT Budget Dwindles After Rash Of Emergency Calls

OSWEGO, NY – Several unexpected events have eaten away at the Oswego Fire Department’s overtime budget.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, Jeff McCrobie, fire chief, requested permission to discuss the overtime situation.

With just a few weeks left in the year, the overtime account is down to around $1,200, the chief said.

“In the past couple weeks, we’ve had a few incidents that have caused us an unusual amount of overtime,” he said. “The river incident, the haz-mat incident and we’ve had two fires, the last one being today. It’s unexpected. There is no way I can foresee it or plan for it. In order to keep the shifts up to what I think is the right level, it’s going to be about $50,000. It’s the cost of doing it and the cost of what I think is doing it right.”

“Two of those events have taken place in the First Ward. If they hadn’t had 12 (on shift), it was within seconds, they wouldn’t have been able to save that second house,” Councilor Connie Cosemento said referring to the recent fire. “If the fire department had been 30 seconds later, it would have been a different scene. I have to stand strong for our department. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with any more of these; especially this year.”

John Geraci, president of the Firefighters’ Association, said he has spent a lot of time talking to the mayor and councilors about these problems.

“These problems started last year when we budgeted for 2011. The fire chief asked for more money, he knew we needed more money, and it got cut on the council floor. Then, going into this year, we have identified some problems … as far as replacement of personnel. When a guy’s leaving, another guy just doesn’t come in the door and ride the truck,” he said. “There’s a lot of training they’ve got to do. We’ve worked very hard with the personnel department to try and streamline that process. We haven’t got to the point where we can reap the benefits of that yet.”

There are three recruits at the academy now who are expected to soon join the department.

“If we continue to streamline this process, I believe that we can make great strides in reducing what we spend,” Geraci explained. “We have repeatedly asked to sit down and form a committee with the chief, members of the union, the rank and file from the department to help identify these problems early on. The last thing I like to do is look at these problems at the end of the year, when the problem is right there smack in front of us.”

He urged the council to work on it with him early next year after the new council members take their seats.

“I have had no one look me in the eye and tell me we can do with less than 12 firefighters,” he said. “You walk into a house fire, and Connie (Councilor Cosemento) saw it today, we fly by the seat of our pants down there. Better give us shamrocks to wear on our coats sometimes, because to be honest with you, 12 ain’t enough to do it. But you know what? We do it. We have grown to know how to do it (with just 12). In Syracuse, there is 35 guys sitting on that first alarm.”

Emergency calls are going to continue to happen, he said, adding, “Support your fire department; support the guys that are out there risking their necks for this city. You live in an old city with a lot of old buildings that are awfully close together. It is hard to sit there and have the (firefighters) when I’m their representative and to constantly feel like we have to justify our existence to everybody else. There needs to be a time where we have some help.”

If everyone works together, they will find ways to improve the budgeting process and save money, he told the councilors. Over the years, they have found ways to save the department and the city money; and they can do more with the council’s help, he said.

“We’ll start to see some benefits in ’12 and if we do well, maybe we’ll see more in ’13,” he said.

“Before we used to do interviews after (a firefighter) left. Now we’re being proactive and figuring out when somebody is going to leave and doing the interviews sooner; of course they can’t start until the other person leaves,” explained Mayor Randy Bateman.

To the chief’s credit, he has realigned personnel to ensure each shift runs smoothly, the mayor added.

“The incoming mayor and council needs to take a look next year and find even more ways to save,” the mayor said.

“We are always willing to sit down and work with the city when it comes to making sure that we’re doing the right thing for all the taxpayers,” Geraci said.

The full council will consider allotting the department up to $50,000, “as needed.”