Ogdensburg decreasing firefighters’ minimum staffing

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 5:35 PM EST
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - Starting on Sunday in Ogdensburg, fewer firefighters will be required to respond to emergency calls in the city. It’s a decrease in what’s called minimum staffing and it’s the latest in an ongoing fight between the city and its firefighters union.

Right now, the city of Ogdensburg has a minimum of 4 firefighters each shift and in just a couple days, that number will be reduced to 3.

Ogdensburg currently has 16 firefighters who work on 4 different shifts - 4 people to each shift.

The number on each shift isn’t going to change, but if one firefighter calls in sick or takes some paid time off, no one will be called in to to replace them.

That means the other 3 will be the only ones to respond to an emergency.

Stephen Jellie, who serves as both city manager and fire chief, made that decision.

“We cannot afford to pay these exorbitant perks and have the number of personnel they want at the same time; the resources are simply not there,” he said.

Mayor Mike Skelly agrees with the city manager and says Ogdensburg needs to do what it can afford. But, Jason Bouchard, fire union president, says this is another attack on public safety by the city manager.

“There is no industry standard out there that agrees with 3 people on a fire engine for an initial attack,” said Bouchard.

He’s referring to procedure from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, which states at least 2 firefighters can enter a burning structure together and 2 additional firefighters must be on standby if those inside need assistance.

Jellie points out that if there is belief victims may be inside, the 2-man in, 2-man out rule no longer applies.

But Jellie says in general, the department will not send manpower inside unless it has at least 4 people on scene.

How will it get that help? Jellie says through mutual aid or an off-duty Ogdensburg firefighter.

“It seems to me that while we wait for volunteers or our off-duty guys, we are going to be watching people’s homes burn helplessly,” said Bouchard.

Two lawmakers in the council minority agree with Bouchard.

“Basically the city of Ogdensburg is at the mercy of mutual aid which would probably take, I would say, a minimum of 20 minutes to get to Ogdensburg and obviously people’s houses are going to burn,” said Dan Skamperle, councillor.

Jellie says his hope is to have 4 or even 5 on minimum staffing, but the union would need to cut back on perks and bonus pay.

“They’re crying bankruptcy, this majority. We all know that’s not the case and it wasn’t at the end of 2019. We weren’t bankrupt. Are we in a better position now? Yes, we are, but at what cost,” said Councillor Mike Powers.

This comes as the issue of minimum staffing is still being looked at by the courts, which originally ruled in favor of the city, but the union has appealed.

See a statement from the union below:

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