Fire Service Seeing Red in Oswego


September 5, 2016 by JImbo

(Photo courtesy 111emergency)

It appears the City of Oswego is in an uproar about the cutting of positions in their paid fire dept. Sixteen of the sixty-eight full time employees will be let go, provided with generous benefit packages. It’s sad to see so many brave local heroes let go, but it didn’t have to happen.

The City of Oswego is $1 million in the red.  Together Police and Fire departments eat up about a third of the general budget. So, it makes sense that much of that money has to come from those departments.

The issue isn’t so black and white however. Oswego didn’t just cut the fire budget. They cut employees.

They could have gotten rid of fire trucks. They could have closed a station to consolidate real estate. They chose to cut employees instead, because the biggest part of the budget is payroll.

Before you criticize them too much, remember that the City Council has a duty to taxpayers. The Council is supposed to spend that hard earned money of its citizens on the best protection they can get.  Wasteful spending hurts 18,000 people at once, so it could be worth seeing just how those dollars are spent.

Is Oswego Fire Dept understaffed? Let’s look at the figures. They have (had) fifty-eight personnel to cover 7.7 square miles of land. That’s tiny.

To put it in perspective, the Town of Sodus has is nearly ten times that size. Does that mean that we would need 580 firefighters to keep Sodus safe? Of course not!

Yes, I know that there are fewer people out here. However, we still have almost half as many people as the City of Oswego. So does that mean we need thirty paid firefighters? Again, no we don’t.

Currently we have ZERO paid firefighters in town. Fires still get put out. The budget is virtually non-existent on tax rolls because the members call on the community to support them voluntarily through fundraisers.

We have ten times the fire coverage for very little cost. We have MORE fire equipment than Oswego does given our FIVE volunteer fire companies in town.  We have MORE volunteer members able to respond. We have comparable response times to Oswego’s.

How is this possible? We don’t use paid firefighters. It really is that simple.

The average entry level pay for a firefighter in New York State is over $50,000 a year. That’s about $25 an hour. It’s also far above average for most Americans, especially in Upstate New York. (NYS Dept of Labor)

By the time they get halfway through their career, an average paid firefighter is making about $70,000 or more. Around retirement age, they are making perhaps $90,000-$100,000. That’s a far cry from the ZERO dollars that volunteers make out here doing the same job.

I’m not complaining. It’s simple math and dedication to community. We aren’t rewarded in money; we are rewarded in the knowledge we help our community. That money goes back into equipment and supplies to serve the community with.

On top of this huge payroll burden that paid departments have, they also have unions. With those unions come pension plans. Gaming government pension plans is how the Oswego FD got in this mess.

The pension system they use calculates your retirement based on the last three years of working. So, government employees jack up their hours and pay for those last three years to make more in retirement. The union made the rule in the OFD that the senior guys get lots of overtime hours to jack up their retirements in the last three years of work.

Say you are making $100,000 a year, three years from retirement in the Oswego Fire Dept.  Being a senior guy you get 20 hours of overtime every week. That’s time and a half. Now you are making $150,000 a year. Your “50% retirement” went from $50,000 a year to $75,000 a year.

That’s great for the guy retiring, but what did the city get for that overtime? At time and a half they paid for 30 hours and got 20. What’s more, they could have HIRED ANOTHER FIREFIGHTER.

Do the math. That extra 20 hours a week costs about $50,000 a year. You could instead hire a brand new firefighter to start at 40 hours a week for the same cost. That retiring firefighter cost the city 20 hours of coverage AND another future employee’s job so he could pad his pension.

Does that sound fair to you? Is it fair to the taxpayers who get less fire protection? Is it fair to the new employee who didn’t get hired? Is it fair to taxpayers who now spend 50% more on that retiree’s pension every year?

Let’s go a step further. Out of fifty-eight employees, about three every year will be reaching retirement. So that means that nine are in the three-year overtime window. That is NINE guys are padding their pensions and that is NINE new firefighters that aren’t being hired.

Of course that means the taxpayer is on the hook for $450,000 a year in bloated retirements “padded” in this way….for the life of those retirees. That could hire about NINE MORE firefighters right? So, we are up to about EIGHTEEN firefighters that are NOT being hired so these fat cats can build huge nest eggs at the taxpayer expense.

Still feel sorry for them? How about if I told you that most of the guys being fired are the YOUNG guys and NOT the retirees? Well of course those with “seniority” are fired last! So, you get the worst of both worlds. The cheaper, new firefighters are being let go. The fat cats soaking up the money are protected by their union and will keep doing their “mandatory overtime.”

(Say goodbye young guys! Old timers need their fat pensions!)

(photo courtesy of Oswego County Today)

In summary, the Union Local 126 is full of crap when they blame the City of Oswego for this situation. Their greed created the problem by fleecing taxpayers for decades. It will only get worse as no new guys are hired and the old guys get fewer, doing fewer hours on their overtime hours.

If you want to know what happened to our industrial sector, remember that most of those jobs were union jobs. Th

e unions were never kicked out of the factories. Those companies just went bankrupt.

The “public sector” (government) unions are on borrowed time. In the private sector union membership has dropped to about six percent. The companies with unions simply went broke. The government insists it can’t “go broke” but it also can’t keep squeezing more money out of taxpayers.

Personally I think they should just use volunteers. You not only save money, but volunteering is good for the soul. It connects people and makes them invested in their own community.

If anything, a city makes it even EASIER to concentrate equipment and personnel in a small area so you need even LESS infrastructure than we do out here in the sticks. We build multiple fire halls to keep equipment close to potential fires in the outskirts. In the city, you could have ONE fire hall to cover the whole thing with ONE set of trucks. Plus, you have a far larger number of people to pull volunteers from.

However, I’m incessantly told that “volunteering just doesn’t work in the city.” Why not? Are people inherently selfish and unwilling to do anything out of charity in the city? Are they somehow less generous and giving?

Be that as it may, the government can’t “go broke”, but the paid Fire Dept can. Many communities are contracting out everything from their water to their ambulance. They set the terms and pay a fixed rate, with no retirement plans and “mandatory overtime.”

Time will tell what path they choose.



2 thoughts on “Fire Service Seeing Red in Oswego

  1. Anonymous says:

    Most government entities waste money.


  2. Anonymous says:

    No money no employees.


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