Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs union says fire department understaffed, busier than ever

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Saratoga Springs Police Department, Saratoga Sheriff and Saratoga Special Operations, and Saratoga Springs Fire Department on scene at Whitmore Court, off Crescent Ave (shown from Jefferson Street), for a standoff with one white male in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The subject was apprehended after tear gas was deployed into his apartment.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Saratoga Springs Police Department, Saratoga Sheriff and Saratoga Special Operations, and Saratoga Springs Fire Department on scene at Whitmore Court, off Crescent Ave (shown from Jefferson Street), for a standoff with one white male in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The subject was apprehended after tear gas was deployed into his apartment.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Union leadership for city firefighters has expressed a concern to Public Safety Commissioner-elect James Montagnino about what it says is the need to beef up staffing in the face of an unprecedented volume of emergency calls.

In a recent meeting, Joe Brimhall, president of the firefighters union, spoke of a commitment to sufficient firefighter staffing and recruitment to ensure the department is adequately prepared for the city’s year-round emergency response needs.

The union said it believes a roster of 60 active and available firefighters is necessary to meet the city’s emergency demands.

Presently, the roster has 54 firefighters available for duty, according to union leadership, and each shift repeatedly falls short of a 12-firefighter minimum.

The city’s recently adopted 2022 operating budget calls for hiring four full-time firefighters, at a cost of $358,933, and a full-time senior clerk, at a cost of $77,768.

The four firefighters are in training — one at the firefighter academy; three in paramedic training. The new firefighters may not be assigned to shifts until their training is complete.

According to the union, at least eight firefighters are eligible for retirement next year, and each new firefighter hired is required to complete 14 weeks of training at the academy prior to being eligible to serve in the firehouse. 

Many new candidates may be required to complete a year-long paramedic certification — further impacting their availability and assignment to a platoon that is impacted due to a retirement.

Higher call volumes and shortages of staff at area hospitals are extending the time firefighters are devoting to each call, the union said. 

 

Continuity of care standards requires firefighters, each of whom is also a paramedic, to ensure patients are safely transferred to the care of a qualified medical professional prior to concluding each call.

“The issue of full staffing is at the core of providing adequate emergency services in Saratoga Springs,” said Brimhall, an 18-year veteran of the department. 

“Without adequate staffing, the residents, businesses and visitors will rely on secondary support from other communities and as a result response times suffer, and city revenues decrease stemming from the cost of mutual aid.”

Representatives of the union met with the incoming commissioner on Monday as part of its effort to develop a cooperative relationship before Montagnino takes office in January.

“Our conversation with Commissioner-elect Montagnino may have been our first meeting since his election, but we are confident and committed to the notion that it will not be the last,” Brimhall said. “We congratulate him, and look forward to a relationship that is candid, direct and frequent.”

Brimhall reflected on the demands placed on firefighters during each shift, and the importance of providing 12 firefighters per shift to adequately meet the community’s demand.

Saratoga Springs firefighters serve 24-hour shifts supported by four rotating platoons, providing for continuous coverage for calls to fires, rescues, automobile accidents and medical emergencies.

In 2020, city firefighters responded to 4,869 emergencies, which it estimates is a response every hour and 48 minutes. 

Responses increase significantly during the summer as a result of the many visitors to Saratoga Springs for events and attractions, Brimhall said.

As of Sunday, Saratoga Springs firefighters had already exceeded last year’s call volume, and if trends continue in December, this year’s total will exceed last year’s by more than 15% — the most ever for the department.

Montagnino called it a “cordial and productive” first meeting with the firefighter’s union executive committee.

Montagnino said he looks forward to a positive working relationship with them going forward, and later, the Commissioner-elect met with Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan and Assistant Chief Aaron Dyer, with the assistance of Commissioner Robin Dalton, whose term is in its final weeks. 

“There is a lot of work ahead, particularly since the new City Council has already asserted its commitment to the prompt construction and staffing of the third fire/EMS station,” Montagnino said. “We want to see this project reach completion promptly; we also recognize that there will be challenges. Specifically, staffing the new station must be addressed quickly because new firefighters/EMT’s will need time for training. The current City Council’s proposed budget does not adequately address this need for 2022, so this will be an issue facing the new Council early on in its tenure.” 

News of the staffing concern comes on the heels of the city’s release of a $54.2 million operating budget for 2022, an $8 million increase from this year’s adopted budget. There will be no tax increase, as departing Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reported the city was on solid financial footing — with replenished reserves, a restored fund balance, a bond rating that is stable. Madigan elected not to seek a sixth term.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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