“This is obviously one of the many disagreements I have with the fire union and their mentality.”
Kasprzak also said that if a firefighter on a 24-hour shift calls in sick, the city has to pay someone to replace him with 24 hours of overtime pay, which is more expensive than paying someone eight hours of overtime to cover a shift.
Councilor Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6) has also taken up the effort to find ways to save money in the Fire Department. At the top of his list are utilizing volunteers and getting rid of the minimum-staffing requirement.
Jackson said the city had a $5.6 million general fund balance at the end of 2011. That was reduced by $1.6 million in the 2012 budget and $2.3 million more in the 2013 budget.
At this point, the situation don’t look much better for the 2014 spending plan, Jackson said, and that probably means departmental cuts next year.
The firefighters contract contains a minimum-staffing clause that requires 36 paid firefighters. That means, Jackson said, other departments will take more of the brunt of any layoffs.
“We need to treat every department equally when it comes to cutting services.”
Feazelle said he doesn’t want to see any city employees laid off, but his concern is keeping enough firefighters on hand for a rapid and effective response.
He said the department has been reduced from about 50 union personnel in the 1980s to the present 39.
“We can’t go any lower and maintain safety levels,” he said.
USE OF VOLUNTEERS
One proposal that has been discussed over the years in the City of Plattsburgh is a combination paid and volunteer fire department.
The city did have a hybrid system in place when Rescue Hose 5 was in operation to provide on-scene air-tank support to firefighters. That department closed at the end of 2008 after the city cut its funding from the 2009 budget.
Jackson said he has spoken with officials in Canandaigua, Geneva and Port Jefferson, communities that have successfully incorporated volunteers into their departments.
As for using volunteers to supplement paid firefighters, McManus said that, statewide, only about 10 departments do so. The reason more don’t, he said, is simply a matter of response time.
“Paid guys in the station can get into their (self-contained breathing apparatus) gear, get on the truck and get there in three or four minutes, and that is critical because the size of a fire doubles every minute,” he said.
“With a volunteer, he may be cleaning his gutters when the call comes, and he has to get down off the ladder, get in his car and drive to the station. It’s not as fast.”
Kasprzak took umbrage over that.
“It’s an insult to every volunteer from Long Island to the North Country that the president of the Firefighters Association doesn’t have (appreciation for) every single volunteer around the state,” the mayor said.
“Volunteer companies seem to work fine in most communities around here and elsewhere in the state.”
Jackson, who said he researched the issue, said that if there were a hybrid department, paid firefighters would be able to provide the same response time. Volunteers could assist those efforts as they arrive.
“Logic would dictate with a hybrid department there could be an immediate response augmented by volunteers,” he said.
Feazelle said that as long as there is no move to eliminate paid positions, city firefighters are willing to work alongside volunteers.
But implementing a hybrid department with volunteers could have a slight impact on residential and commercial insurance rates.
Alan Booth of the Booth Insurance Agency in Plattsburgh said municipalities are given ratings from 1 to 10 based on what kind of fire service is in place — and those ratings help determine the cost of insurance premiums.
The city, with a full-time, paid department and strategically placed fire hydrants, rates a 3.