OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Fire Department is in store for significant changes if the mayor’s budget recommendations are approved.
Wednesday night, at the first of three planned budget workshops, Mayor Tom Gillen proposed closing the west side fire station, reducing the number of firefighters on shifts from 14 down to 10, and cutting the number of ambulances by two and the remaining three would respond to calls within the city limits as of Jan. 1, 2013.
“We argued long and hard about reducing shift sizes to 10 as a way to manage overtime (in the fire department),” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said.
The fairest way to reduce the number of firefighters is through attrition, not layoffs.
“We don’t want to see anyone lose their job,” he added.
“Me either,” replied Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie.
“I don’t want to see anybody loose their jobs,” Councilor Mike Myers said. “I’d rather cut money from your budget.
If these cutbacks are made it will impact what the fire department does with other city departments, the chief continued.
“My people cannot donate time. An employee cannot work for us without compensation,” he said. “The ones that are going to suffer are the ones we serve and the ones we support, which are some of the other departments.”
The cuts would have an impact on the training for firefighters, he said pointing out that much is done when they are on duty.
The dive team and Haz-Mat team will likely suffer as well, he said.
When he mentioned the amount of ambulance calls the department handles, Council Fran Enwright said the department should focus on being a fire department and not so much an ambulance service.
The ambulance shortchanges the department, he said.
“This is a fire department. We just don’t have enough people to respond to a fire and I really have a problem with that,” the councilor said. “It’s not fair to the city. If we’re paying all this overtime (caused by firefighters called in to cover for those on ambulance calls), we can’t afford it. I think what we want to have is a Caddilac and we can only afford a Chevy.”
“We’re putting more bread in the basket where more calls are,” the chief said explaining the emphasis on ambulance service. “To get an ambulance from somewhere else – good luck.”
Privatizing the ambulance service would be treating people “the absolute worst way you could. You would not get the coverage in ambulance that we are providing right now,” McCrobie noted. “I don’t think you understand that there are way more EMS calls than there are fire calls.”
The ambulance service curently responds to calls beyond the city limits. The chief was leery of not responding to someone just because they are on the other side of the line.
“We are a municipality running an ambulance service. Menter (ambulance service) is a different entity. We are asking taxpayers to pay for a servcie and they are willing to pay for it if they can get value from it,” the mayor said.
But if they are sending their crews to calls out side the city … “we’re talking legal and moral … Legally we don’t have to do that, ethically we can discuss it morally, that’s a high-end conversation. But what do we tell our taxpayers?” the mayor said. “It’s their money. We aren’t looking at shareholders we’re talking about the people who pay the taxes.”
McCrobie said he’d go back to his department “and start working team to team” and see what can be done.
“It just will not be the same,” he said.
“We know that,” Kaplewicz said, adding that it is the chief’s job to find a way to offer services while staying within his budget. “We just don’t have the money to spend.”
The council agreed to give the chief time to work with his department to adapt to the recommendations.
They will meet again next Wednesday to further discuss the plan.
There will be two more budget workshops to allow the council to meet with the rest of the department heads.
A public hearing on the budget proposal is scheduled for Nov. 26.