NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City of New Rochelle is advocating further slashing its emergency responder protection, if the proposed 2013 city budget is not rectified. Under the proposal, the minimum on-duty firefighting contingent to protect the entire city would be reduced to 24 firefighters. In 2008 the minimum protection level to keep the city safe was 29 fire fighters per shift, meaning a 17 ¼ percent cut to public safety staffing minimums in less than five years.
These cuts would result in fire department brown-outs, eliminating one fire engine from service on a rotating basis in different parts of the city. This will lengthen response time and compromise the NRFD and its fire fighters’ ability to safely respond to emergencies.
The proposed cut was suggested in a report by a citizens advisory committee advising the city manager on how to relieve some of the city’s fiscal woes. The members of this committee have no public safety or government management experience.
“The fire department was already cut to the bone when minimum staffing was reduced to 27 fire fighters back in 2008,” said Byron Gray, who is both a 50 year resident of the city and president of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association. “Reducing that number even further for a miniscule savings of one cent per resident per day is outrageous. 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 to their particular emergency, the city would have rolled the dice and lost in order to save $300,000.”
“It is unfathomable that the city is unable to maintain manning levels that are already inadequate, unsafe and far below what experts have indicated is necessary to adequately protect New Rochelle,” said Peter Miley, Secretary Treasurer of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association.
The 2013 budget proposes cutting back the fire department’s overtime budget by $300,000. Fire fighters point out the need for an overtime budget is a direct result of significant understaffing in the NRFD. Since 2008 the NRFD’s ranks have been decimated with a fifteen percent cut in the number of fire fighters, down from 168 to 143 with six cadets currently in training. Due to lack of hiring in recent years, 44 percent of the NRFD is currently eligible for retirement.
“The city is playing Russian roulette with the public’s safety to save only a penny per day, per resident. It’s mindboggling,” continued Fire Fighter Gray. “It’s ironic that the city is proposing to eliminate more first responders the week following our city being slammed by a Nor’easter and days earlier by Hurricane Sandy. Over that period, fire fighters responded to hundreds of emergencies from electrical fires and wires burning, to soaring levels of medical emergencies, people trapped in high-rise elevators in distress and toxic carbon monoxide scares from improper use of generators.”
The proposed $300,000 budget savings would be less than 1/5 of 1 percent of the city’s proposed overall $153.6 million dollar budget.
“The number one purpose of government is to always protect citizens and their property. Somewhere along the line our local government decided that protecting New Rochelle citizens and the fire fighters who put our lives on the line is almost 20 percent less important than it was to our city 5 years ago. Cut government bureaucracy and waste, before eliminating lifesaving services that directly contribute to the city’s livability.”