OGDENSBURG — The prolonged disagreement over city fire department staffing could lead to a smaller roster than anticipated if an agreement wit…
OGDENSBURG — The last remaining laid-off city firefighter has been brought back to work this week, but not at the fire department.
Jacob E. Thornton, a former city firefighter, was offered a job with the city Department of Public Works last month. He officially accepted the job at the end of March and reported for his day of work at the DPW on Monday.
Mr. Thornton was one of five firefighters given a layoff notice in December after City Council reduced the city fire department staff by seven positions — dropping the department from 27 firefighters to 20 at the time. The positions were eliminated when City Council passed its 2021 budget on Dec. 9.
Five layoff notices were issued just before the new year as one fire captain opted for retirement and another firefighter was out on leave at the time. Four of the five laid-off firefighters have since been brought back to work at the city fire department following their Jan. 1 dismissals as more firefighters have opted to retire.
The city fire department is currently operating with 21 firefighters — one more than the 2021 budget outlines — as City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie has used the money allocated for the fire chief salary to fund the 21st firefighter position.
But once firefighter Randy Petell retires at the end of the month, the department will drop back down to 20.
Mr. Jellie said Tuesday that he’s unsure if he will continue to reallocate the fire chief salary to fund the 21st firefighter position as that would mean he couldn’t hire a fire chief later on, leaving him to continue doing the job.
Mr. Thornton will remain at the top of the civil service list for the city fire department for four years — meaning if an opening becomes available within the department, Mr. Thornton would be the first one called back. But the prolonged disagreement over fire department staffing could lead to a smaller roster than anticipated if an agreement with city leadership isn’t reached soon.
As part of the city’s latest proposal, the city would pursue reducing the fire department from 20 to 16 firefighters — meaning four more layoffs — if the union doesn’t accept the contract offer. Since Jan. 1, the city fire department has been trimmed from 27 to 20 firefighters, and the additional cuts would bring the total staff reduction to 11.
With the re-employment of Mr. Thornton, the city has returned all laid-off firefighters to work in some capacity.