Fire staffing: safety vs. job security

Stephen Jellie

OGDENSBURG — International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard and his uncle, retired Ogdensburg Assistant Fire Chief Ronald Bouchard, enjoy the freedom of writing near fictional versions of the events regarding the ongoing staffing dispute between the city of Ogdensburg and IAFF Local 1799. From time to time, it is imperative that their near fictional accounts be corrected with verifiable facts and their continued fear mongering campaign silenced with reality.

n The average cost of a firefighter in the city of Ogdensburg is $131,000, and that does not include the exorbitant perks and excessive overtime they entitle themselves to when scheduling too many personnel off during vacation leave so others are then guaranteed overtime. The median household income for a resident in Ogdensburg is $38,822 annually. It is beyond understanding how IAFF Local 1799 believes city residents making so much less can afford to continue to pay these over-the-top entitlements. IAFF Local 1799 must look around Ogdensburg and ask themselves who can afford this.

n Every department in Ogdensburg costs the taxpayers less than those of the Fire Department. Every other department has experienced reductions in personnel year after year. IAFF Local 1799 refuses to work with city officials to reduce staffing in the name of personnel and community safety. Yet when offered by the city to maintain staffing at its pleaded number of 24, it refused to reduce the excessive benefit and perk package and bring all their members back to work. IAFF Local 1799, without hesitation, chose its perks over its members, and now it wants to blame the city because one firefighter remains off-duty.

n IAFF Local 1799 asserts there is no possible way that firefighting operations can be performed safely with less than six personnel assigned on a shift. Yet it secured a $3 per hour increase in pay (and called hazard duty pay) if the shift is assigned less than six personnel. Then it asserts there is no way it can effectively conduct firefighting operations with less than five personnel on duty and it must have two trucks at every fire. Yet it champions sending just three personnel to a fire on one truck while two personnel in another truck tend to a medical response. IAFF Local 1799 needs to familiarize itself with the facts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 2IN/2OUT Rule, not its misinformed, self-serving, job security supporting interpretation of it.

n IAFF Local 1799 accuses me of not paying attention or adhering to state Department of Health guidelines for novel coronavirus response. Yet when I restricted Fire Department support response to EMS calls to protect our first-responders from exposure, it called me “reckless.” As city manager and fire chief, I am responsible for maintaining the city’s ability to respond to the primary missions of the Fire Department (response to fires, haz-mat and rescue calls). IAFF Local 1799 wants to respond to every EMS call to increase its response statistics to offset the continued reduction in calls for primary services. I am only concerned for public safety and protection of the community.

n IAFF Local 1799 will continue to defend its irresponsible and hastily agreed to contract that was ratified during a period of significant financial distress for the city and only after the landslide victory of the current majority of the City Council. IAFF Local 1799 also would like the city to forget that it had declared an impasse with the previous City Council and city manager, but it had a significant change of heart on the morning of Nov. 6, 2019, and rushed to City Hall to make a deal before it was forced to negotiate a contract based in reality with leaders that would not buckle to its historic fearmongering. IAFF Local 1799 is not a fan of facts or reality. It has its story, and it’s sticking to it.

n IAFF Local 1799 wants what it wants. It has no regard for the financial wellness of the city, and it does not care if the budget in every other department has to be cut or the staff of those departments has to be reduced for it to maintain what it wants. It has been doing this for years, and it will continue even if it takes a court order to do it. The city is now using the vacant fire chief position salary to return a laid-off firefighter to duty, an act of good faith and concern for the welfare of a valued employee. Yet still, IAFF Local 1799 complains that the city still isn’t doing enough for it because one employee remains laid off. Sorry, IAFF Local 1799; the city is not sacrificing any additional resources for your personal benefit. The city has many high-priority matters that have been ignored for too long so that your entitlements could be fulfilled — the city is moving on, and it is not looking back.

n It continues to be the sincere intent of the city of Ogdensburg to settle this matter and focus our efforts on the survival of the city while working equally as hard to ensure the revival of the city. We urge IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard to join the real efforts to save this city and leave the past and the fiction behind.

Stephen P. Jellie is the city manager and fire chief for the city of Ogdensburg.

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(1) comment

Eagle24

Very well written...supported by data...metrics...versus the scare tactics that we hear frequently that any reductions will cost lives... This is why a write in candidate won the election... Comparing the average citizen income to the cost to the city is telling and outrageous...

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