OGDENSBURG – Effective today, the minimum staffing of the Ogdensburg Fire Department will be reduced to three firefighters by City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie following unsuccessful attempts to renegotiate ‘benefits Â»And the risk premium with the union representing the city’s firefighters.
The union says the change in staff puts public safety at risk.
The fire department had a minimum crew of four before the change. This allowed two firefighters to enter and fight a structural fire from the inside, leaving two firefighters outside, as directed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The new minimum staff will affect how the city’s firefighters can tackle structural fires in the future.
âThe most important thing that this limits is that we have to wait for the arrival of recalled personnel or mutual first aid before we can get into a burning structure fire, unless there are lives in danger. If there is a life in danger, we can always do what we have to save a life, âsaid Mr. Jellie. âThe OSHA standard requires, to have two people inside, we have to have two people outside. So that makes us step back a little to enter a structure. It doesn’t say we can’t start watering from a door, watering from windows.
Ogdensburg Fire Department Local 1799 President Jason T. Bouchard said Mr. Jellie’s most recent actions will once again put the safety of citizens and firefighters at risk.
âIn an effort to try to use the residents and business owners of Ogdensburg as leverage, he decides to move our service to a minimum of three people on duty. This decision goes against all industry safety standards, âBouchard said in a press release Friday afternoon. “The city manager will accuse our union’s discontent of ‘spreading fear’, but it is an indisputable fact.”
Having a team of three firefighters will have an impact on what they can do before support staff or recalled can arrive on the scene, according to Mr. Bouchard.
âOSHA and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have many documents in existence dictating how our proud public servants will no longer be able to enter a burning structure with a crew of three. This means that the Ogdensburg firefighters will have to stand idly by, watch your house or business burn down, wait for help to arrive to enter the building safely, âsaid Mr. Bouchard. “There is no way for us to accomplish an inside firefighting attack with three men, none.”
“The IAFF Local 1799 looks forward to Mr. Jellie’s explanation to their constituents as to why this violation of federal safety rules is acceptable,” he added.
The reduction in the minimum membership was effected, according to Mr. Jellie, after attempts to meet and âwork out a collective planâ were ignored by Local 1799. Mr. Jellie said he would prefer that there would be four or even five firefighters every shift, but there must be a discussion of the “exorbitant benefits demanded by IAFF Local 1799 and to maintain the level of staffing desired by the union”.
âIf unions like the Fire Union continue to pursue the highest and most important level of benefits in the city, and quite frankly the surrounding area, we just aren’t going to be able to afford the numbers. . staff they want. We will have to have fewer people to pay for these high salaries and benefits, âJellie said. “I would really prefer to see a reduction in some of the perks and perks and the low contributions to things like health care and we are using that money to hire staff so that we can keep a minimum of four, and more preferably five. . “
Another “benefit” claim is a risk premium of $ 6 an hour, which Jellie calls “a job security premium and a total taxpayer sham that was approved by the previous city council.” .
Mr. Bouchard said Mr. Jellie still publicly blamed the city’s firefighters for not meeting him and that the city manager “is threatening us once again.”
“Only this time, he’s using firefighters and public safety as leverage, realizing that help is far from close enough that we can adequately fight the fire with four, certainly not with three,” Bouchard said. . âDuring this time, he and the administration he serves have violated our contract on numerous occasions. How the hell could we come to terms with a group like this? Would he even be honored? Would you trust them? “
Mr. Bouchard called the new policy “reckless” and “the latest example of dangerous decision-making and hostage-taking tactics used by this administration to reduce public safety and decimate the Ogdensburg fire department. “.
The union president maintains that since the end of 2019, the department has lost 12 of its 28 members, or 42.85% of its workforce.
âUsing the city manager’s numbers, this represents a total reduction of over $ 1.5 million in savings for our service, per year, forever. You might think that is more than enough, âsaid Mr. Bouchard.
The city manager and fire chief asked Mr. Bouchard to plan a meeting to “discuss how to work collectively to ensure that the city remains financially strong”.
âAs Fire Chief, I call on IAFF Local 1799 President Jason Bouchard to think for himself and chart a course for the next 20 years, which should include a plan to maintain a minimum complement of four people in the fire department and train a volunteer augmentation force. 16 people by the end of 2023, âJellie said.
This does not appear to be part of any of the union’s immediate plans. On November 13, 2020, the union recorded a 27-0 vote of “no confidence” in Mr. Jellie as the fire chief.
“Given the relationship of trust that exists between the two parties and the exorbitant number of concessions already made by our union, Local 1799 in fact refuses any request for negotiations with this current administration,” said Mr. Bouchard, who asked that members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with the new policy at the city council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.