Saturday Morning – Who's Watching Out For You?
It's good to have a friend on the city council who also knows what he's talking about. Apparently that's the case in Syracuse, New York, where the Common Council was considering "saving money" by cutting back on fire department services, closing a station, and laying off firefighters from an already-understaffed department.
Taking the stage during the Council's May 8 public meeting was Councilor-at-Large who also was formerly a Syracuse Fire Department Deputy Chief before he retired 9 years ago. During the evening's considerations he addressed the council with some prepared remarks that were later published in the local newspaper. I present here a few of them (somewhat taken out of context) where you can get the gist of what he said:
As a former chief officer of the department, I am familiar with the operational issues, and as a sitting councilor I am equally familiar with our financial situation. As the only elected official in Syracuse with this combination of experience and expertise, I offer these comments to promote the public dialogue.
(part of the budget proposed by the mayor is to close one more fire station and eliminate FD response to medical calls…..ed.)
The plan to combine the two busiest engine companies in the city, by closing the companies on East Fayette Street and on West Street, and opening one on State Street, will save the city operational costs by having fewer firefighters on duty and capital costs by closing a building in need of repair.
The plan will also result in a substantial reduction in fire department responses, according to the chief. Five thousand calls to 911 that are currently responded to will not receive a fire department response under this plan.
This will result in significant delays in response to those calls, as there are not enough ambulance crews available to provide the level of service now provided by the fire department. At times, ambulance crews will have to respond from outside Syracuse.
In some cases this delayed response will not impair public safety, but in others it will. When people call 911 it is often very difficult for the call takers to know exactly what the emergency is and exactly what level of response is necessary. They may know that the patient fell, but not that he had a stroke.
Not only do I believe that public safety will be impaired by these cuts, I also believe that firefighter safety will be impaired. When my partner and I were buried under a mountain of bricks in a 1995 building collapse, our rescue was accomplished quickly because 12 firefighters were already on the scene and available for the mayday response. Additional companies that were called from other parts of the city would arrive in a matter of minutes, but were not immediately available. Since that accident, the fire department's on-duty strength has already been cut from 79 to 69. Under the proposed plan, it would be further cut to 65. Where are my rescuers now?
After laying out the potential risks to the city, Councilor Denno went on to list several viable alternatives that would provide the funding needed to maintain the current level of service without raising taxes (which is too many politicians' knee-jerk reaction). He concluded his remarks saying:
Cutting the fire service will reduce public safety and critically impair firefighter safety. It is not a necessity, it is a choice; a dangerous choice. I hope that Mayor Miner will reconsider her decision and work with the council to craft a safer alternative for our community and our firefighters.
Later in the meeting the Common Council voted unanimously to restore the funding for the fire department.
Now we'll restore the program to check out our equipment every day and get started with that. I'll see that the Bunn-O-Matic is full of fresh java when we meet back in the day room.
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