To The Editor:
By John Geraci
The Common Council will soon be considering a resolution that will result in the elimination of positions within the fire department. There are currently four newly created vacancies that were included in the 2013 budget and anticipated to be filled.
These positions are now on the chopping block.
This comes as a surprise, based on the fact that we recently suffered cuts to daily staffing and made concessions through contract negotiations to accommodate the 2013 budget.
Specifically, we were forced to come up with a plan to hold the line on payroll and reduce the amount of overtime monies spent by 50%.
Without the replacement of these positions, the plan that was put in place at the close of the 2013 budget process to operate the department safely will be undermined.
If these positions are eliminated by the Common Council, it will again cause the department to rely on overtime to keep our manning at its minimum.
This is a burden that the current budget cannot absorb, and would likely result in the need for a further decrease in daily staffing.
The most important factor in our ability to protect the lives and property of the city of Oswego is our daily staffing.
A daily staffing that at the beginning of 2013 was cut from 12 to 11, despite the Firefighters’ Association’s serious concern that we already responded to structure fires with less than what accepted industry standards call for.
A daily staffing that if reduced further would inevitably result in a less aggressive approach in structural firefighting.
Whether it be a structure fire, simultaneous alarms, or resource heavy river rescues, available staffing has the largest impact on the outcomes.
Use any of the recent structure fires in the city as an example. With 11 members on duty and one ambulance on a call, it leaves nine members able to respond to a fire.
Of that nine, two members will be operating fire apparatus and one will be incident command.
This leaves six members with the task of advancing a hose line to the seat of the fire, performing a search of the building to locate trapped occupants, providing ventilation to allow the hose line to be advanced, and establishing a water supply.
Have a second ambulance out on a call and you are left with four members to accomplish the same amount of tasks, all of which need to be performed immediately upon arrival at a fire.
As you can see we are already spread dangerously thin, sometimes barely able to satisfy the OSHA mandated two in two out requirement.
Any further reduction in staffing will result in necessary tasks that do not get done at the scene of the next fire, putting our crews and the lives and property we protect in jeopardy.
The members of the Firefighters’ Association made many concessions during collective bargaining necessary to stay within the confines of the budget and continue to operate safely.
Most notably our membership agreed to take a 0% cost of living increase for the next three years, reduced the number of firefighters that could be off at any one time to three, reduced the amount of leave time for all members, reduced the amount of overtime paid to a member forced to work over their shift, and we changed our shift schedule to hopefully lessen the overall opportunity for holdover overtime.
We also agreed to a long-term plan to reduce health insurance costs.
I believe we have shown that we are not only dedicated to the citizens of Oswego as first responders, but also as a part of the equation that has worked diligently to maintain our services with less cost to our constituents.
Simply put, we were told to come up with a plan to operate safely within the budget , we took staffing cuts and made concessions to do so, now the budget is being reduced further, which will cause the plan to fail, and ultimately result in more cuts to the services we provide.
We ask the members of the Common Council and the mayor to fill these positions and continue to work with this department to find responsible ways to control costs, while not jeopardizing our ability to provide ample protection for our city.
Please contact your elected leaders and tell them we have cut enough.
For more info, visit facebook.com/oswegocityfirefighters
John Geraci is president of the Oswego Firefighters’ Association.