As tighter times hit Watertown City Hall, Mayor Jeff Graham and others are looking for ways to save money.

"You look at some of the big cost drivers in the budget and say, 'How can we contain costs," said Graham.

One of those big cost drivers is the fire department at nearly $9 million a year.  

That's why the city has hired a consultant to study it.

"A baseline study, based on data, facts, that will prescribe an outcome on which direction we should take with the fire department," said City Manager Sharon Addison.

Addison says right now, the department is what she calls "reverse engineered."

She says the department's structure and staffing are not being driven by need, but rather by terms of the contract between the city and its firefighters.

In particular, she points out the contract clause that says 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times.

"I would prefer not to see any minimum manning. Again, it's management's decision on how to staff," said Addison.

Whether or not minimum manning is addressed by the study, the city does intend to make it an issue in upcoming contract talks with its firefighters.

"We have a strong interest in negotiating the issue of minimum manning out of the contract," said Graham.

You can imagine the reaction from the union.

"We have minimum manning for a reason and a lot of it - it's mostly because of safety," said Mark Jones, president of Local 191, Watertown Professional Firefighters Union.

Meanwhile, the chief warns about higher insurance rates if minimum manning goes down.

"There's going to be an increase in the premium that you pay for fire insurance on your property," said Chief Dale Herman. "No doubt about it."

As the battle lines are drawn, it's a battle that Auburn, a city the same size as Watertown, has already fought.  

"We came up with some creative ways to tackle the tough problem," said Auburn Fire Chief Jeff Dygert.  

How Auburn did it will be discussed in part two of "Fire and the Future."

Part one of the series will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday on 7 News This Evening.