Ogdensburg, fire officials spar over first responder status

A carved statue of a kneeling firefighter clutching an American flag is seen in front of the Ogdensburg Fire Department building on Ford Street. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — Two weeks after five city firefighters were issued layoff notices, one will be reinstated to his post Wednesday. But the union’s president said it comes with a price.

In an email to media Tuesday morning, City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie said of the four remaining laid-off firefighters, one will be reinstated, leaving three laid-off firefighters.

In a separate email Tuesday night, union President Jason T. Bouchard confirmed that at about 8:30 that morning, Assistant Fire Chief Ronald Bouchard, also the union’s secretary and treasurer, was issued a 30-day suspension “without past incident or notice.” Ronald Bouchard has also been suspended without pay.

“(Ronald) Bouchard has continuously bargained and fought for our Union harder than anyone currently serving this city,” Jason Bouchard said of his uncle. “We the Local 1799 think that Mr. Jellie’s decision is retribution in action, and in no way serves our departmental mission, well-being, nor the purported good faith the city manager would like to establish with our Union.”

Jason Bouchard said Ronald Bouchard’s suspension stems from his response to a structure fire on Jan. 4.

“However, their actions did not meet, Mr. Stephen Jellie’s newly, abruptly imposed, untrained directives,” Jason Bouchard wrote. “Assistant Chief Ronald Bouchard is being disciplined for saving a house in this city.”

Ronald Bouchard is a 32-year veteran of the city fire department, as well as a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

It’s unclear if Ronald Bouchard’s suspension and the reinstatement of one city firefighter are related.

Last month, five layoff notices were issued as, at the time, one fire captain had chosen to accept the city’s $25,000 retirement incentive, and a sixth firefighter remains out on leave for an unspecified injury. The layoffs took effect Jan. 1.

On Dec. 18, Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters, Local 1799, filed suit in state Supreme Court in St. Lawrence County against the city attempting to temporarily halt city officials from reducing the size of the fire department staff. It was revealed during the case’s oral arguments Friday that two more firefighters have opted to retire while a third is under “disciplinary review.”

As a result of those two fire captains choosing to retire, one firefighter was able to be reinstated, Mr. Jellie said this week, leaving four laid-off firefighters. Wednesday’s reinstatement of another firefighter will leave three union members still without a job.

“The City continues to urge the IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard to meet and collectively work on a plan that enables the city to regain a strong financial standing and return all laid off firefighter personnel to duty,” Mr. Jellie said in the email. “Since taking office in January 2020, the new Ogdensburg City Council has acted decisively to save the city from financial ruin, while working equally as hard to begin the revival of the city, and it is our sincere desire to have IAFF Local 1799 join us in those efforts.”

The city and its fire union have been at odds for more than two months after the city introduced and passed its 2021 budget, which included the elimination of seven firefighter positions.

When the budget was passed on Dec. 9, the city had 27 firefighters, but factoring in the seven job cuts, 20 firefighters were to remain, dipping below the 24-person minimum required by the city and union’s minimum staffing agreement.

The city has extended two new contract offers to the union, both of which have been unanimously denied by members.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Assistant Managing Editor

In her role as assistant managing editor at the Watertown Daily Times, Sydney manages the photo department, social media accounts and NNY360.com.

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