Five Years and 17 Percent Less Safe?

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Five Years and 17 Percent Less Safe?

December 10, 2012 - 18:33

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Only five years ago, the lowest level of on-duty fire fighters protecting the City of New Rochelle was 29. Due to half a decade of decimating public safety cuts, that number has continued to erode. If the proposed 2013 city budget goes forward as is, that minimum will be 24 New Rochelle Fire Department fire fighters – a 17 ¼ percent reduction in fire fighters in less than 5 years.

The NRFD staffing was cut to the bone when minimum staffing was reduced to 27 fire fighters in 2008. To propose reducing that number even further for a city of over 77,000 people is unfathomable, as the fire department is already stretched too thin.

Under the new proposal, 27 fire fighters will be scheduled for duty each shift. If fire fighters are sick or injured, additional manpower will only be called in when the number of personnel drops below 24.

These cuts could result in fire department brown-outs, eliminating a fire engine from service when just one firefighter is out. Will it be the firehouse that responds to your home on the day that you need them?

On Tuesday, December 11, the New Rochelle City Council will vote on the proposed 2013 budget. Its targeted budget extraction from the fire department is $300,000. That’s a savings of less than 1/5 of 1 percent of the city’s proposed overall $153.6 million dollar budget. The city council needs to carefully consider the consequences of further crippling an already understaffed first responder agency.

As a veteran fire fighter who has seen far too many tragedies, it all sounds like a game of Russian roulette.

Fiscal integrity for our city is critical, but the dollar savings of cuts to our fire department would amount to just a single penny per day, per resident! If even one New Rochelle business is wiped out by a fire or one person dies because the city didn’t have enough manpower on duty to respond quickly enough to an emergency, the city would have rolled the dice and lost in order to save $300,000.

While the decision now rests squarely on the shoulders of the city council, the recommendations for these drastic cuts come from a report by a citizen’s advisory committee, a group of citizens without public safety or government management experience. Their report even states that “Any significant change in the Fire Department’s service portfolio, personnel levels and/or response capability must be preceded by careful analysis so that risks can be clearly understood…”

The rhetoric we’ve all been fed is, “we are simply cutting overtime for the NRFD - that’s all”. But in fact, this is a direct correlation to the Department being understaffed already. Since 2008, the NRFD’s ranks have been decimated with a twelve percent cut in the total number of fire fighters, down from 168 to 148 with six cadets currently in training, complements of a federal grant. It’s a fact that due to lack of hiring in recent years, an astounding 44 percent of the NRFD is currently eligible for retirement.

If the purpose of government is to protect citizens and their property first, how can it be that protecting New Rochelle citizens is now nearly 20 percent less vital than it was to our city 5 years ago?

Instead, let’s cut government bureaucracy and waste before eliminating lifesaving services that directly contribute to the city’s livability. The NRFD has already been cut too deep. The city has chipped away at the bone of New Rochelle’s safety framework for years leaving nothing to give but the safety of New Rochelle and its residents.

ByronGrayByron Gray is president of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association Local 273.

There are 6 Comments

Isn't it amazing that as far back as 2002 the democratic controlled city council used the NRFD as pawns in numerous budget proposals? Why not cut the communications position? Or the Sustainability coordinator? How about the politically appointed city clerk with no experience for $100,000 plus benefits? Why consider hiring a lobbyist when the last one cost us $40,000 and returned Nada? The citizens budget committee was well intentioned but stacked with loyal democrats who became scapegoats for the imposition of bagging leaves.

The three basic services of government are; 1)protect its citizens, 2)put out the fires and 3)take out the trash. EVERYTHING else is a luxury.

It is the New Rochelle Fire Department's mission to provide the best available service for fire prevention, fire protection, rescue/extrication, hazardous material operations, and emergency medical service for the city of New Rochelle at all times. We strive to eliminate the loss of life and property during these emergencies within our community at all times. We are a major part of this cities first line of defense. We are your first responders; to your calls for help, what ever size it may be. The ability of our department to respond quickly and function effectively at any call for help depends directly on the strategic placement of manpower and apparatus throughout the city. The ability of our department to respond quickly and function effectively will depend directly on the wisdom and judgment of our city council to properly finance the dept. It is the responsibility of council to vote for the budgeting needed to maintain a preplanned, consistent level of protective services to be available at all times for the people they were elected to represent.

Maybe it is time for an on call volunteer firefighting force. If the true concern is the safety of the citizens. Perhaps there are doctors who would be willing to put themselves on call in the area where they live, perhaps better than paramedics, and maybe able to respond faster to someone who lives a few houses down from where they live. Same to be said for volunteers who could respond quickly when they got a text message. If the true concern is safety. The paid firefighters being the leaders, the volunteers following instructions.

Volunteers could certainly beef up the staffing levels. Since they're already in the area, many could even come right from other city departments. Perhaps they should get a credit towards their property taxes?

Being a member of one of a family that has been in New Rochelle since the 1600's, I have returned to an almost unrecognizable community, or lack thereof. I see decay and neglect in several areas of the city and have studied the city budget to see where the narrow mindedness of the council has catered to pet projects and personal agendas at the expense of the citizens and the overall image of the city. For example, Hudson Park, one of the landmarks of the city and the maritime gateway to the Queen City of the Sound" is a disgrace. While the "Park, Recreation & Youth" dept.'s budget has increased since 2009 by 9%, the Hudson Park budget has decreased by 26%. This is a glaring example of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in other projects championed by Council Members. The City Budget is so poorly conceived that it prompted a recent property tax increase with no increase in the Fire or Police departments negatively effected by poor planning and political BS. However this is not a partisan issue, just ineptitude of those elected to the council, a Mayor more interested in political ambition than serving those who elected him and a City Manager with little interest in improving the quality of life of the residents of his city. We saw this same idiocy in the '60's when Federal monies to build housing projects was so sought after that it ignored the immediate effects of a rapid increase in population on the city's emergency services and social climate. This kind of selfish use of bureaucracy is not new to New Rochelle, but should end over the next few election cycles if enough individuals step up to the plate who actually give a crap about their hometown.

I've known Byron for well over 30 years and have many friends on the NRFD. These are dedicated professionals who give up holidays with their families on several occasions to ensure the safety of you all and your families. A volunteer force would certainly delay response times beyond a safe threshold and has a place in rural areas, not a suburb such as New Rochelle. There sould be a standard ratio of Firefighters and First Responders to residents, including the many who are not counted in the Census due to illegal status and that is just simply not the case. The population has held relatively "steady" for many years so, simply put, the reductions have no basis in effective use of manpower. The only reason is misallocation of the budget to items of obviously inferior importance.

This city need a revolution of visionaries who have more "skin in the game". Are you listening, Mr. Mayor? Time to get with the program or get out.

jimi, the problem is nobody cares. The mayor got 80% of the vote so he thinks he's invicible and he's got a veto proof rubber stamp council.

I for 1 plan to sell my house after the kids are done with school, that is if the bank doesn't take it before then. But I know, once I stop paying I can live free for 5 years or so before the bank can kick me out. That's over $100,000 in property taxes I plan to stick to someone.