City seeks to revamp fire department

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 1/12/22

Seeking to reduce $1.7 million in overtime pay, Newburgh City Manager Todd Venning is recommending personnel changes within the organizational structure of the city’s fire …

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City seeks to revamp fire department

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Seeking to reduce $1.7 million in overtime pay, Newburgh City Manager Todd Venning is recommending personnel changes within the organizational structure of the city’s fire department.

Venning brought forward these recommendations during the Thursday, January 6 Newburgh City Council work session. He also discussed them during the January 10 city council meeting with members of the Newburgh Fire Department in attendance.

The proposal will keep the same number of personnel per vehicle and an assistant chief to oversee operations. No changes to personnel shifts and personnel schedules were proposed, and no firehouses in the city are closing, according to Venning.

The Newburgh Fire Department has four engines and two ladder trucks. Three firefighters operate each vehicle and one assistant fire chief oversees the operations at a time while on their designated shifts according to Venning.

These personnel recommendations reduce the initial response to a fire call with two fire engines and one ladder truck. Additional personnel and equipment would be called upon based on the need for personnel and severity of the fire.

These recommendations were based on his review of the ‘City of Newburgh Fire and Police Department Overtime Study’ conducted by the firm, PKF O’Connor Davies. Venning also stated he is working with Fire Chief Francis Spinelli on these issues.

In 2019, the study showed only 14% of all fire calls were actual reported fires or high-risk occurrences and in 2020, only 16% were reported. In 2019, 24% of fire calls were false alarms and in 2020, 26% of those calls were false alarms.

In the 2019 and 2020 years, the overtime budget exceeded the allocated amounts. In 2020 to 2021, the actual overtime cost was over $1.7 million, according to Venning.

Venning explained that the overtime costs are complex and that hiring more firemen does not necessarily reduce the overtime costs. This was the case in 2019 where 65 active firefighters were employed by the city. In 2020, only 50 active firefighters were employed by the city, however, even with the reduced number of firemen, the overtime still exceeded the budgeted amount.

The O’Connor Davis study made other cost-saving recommendations as well, including:

  • The City should consider negotiating hours for the Fire Department for 12-hour shifts versus 24-hour shifts. The change to a 12-hour shift would reduce overall overtime.
  • -Change scheduling of shifts to use less trained firefighters for those tasks that can be managed by civilian staff and improve the process for monitoring overtime hours.
  • Consider installing biometric readers for time entry for accurate time and attendance.
  • Consider integrating fire and police emergency dispatch services.
  • The study also looked at the police department and made similar recommendations to reduce overtime hours.

Councilman Bob Sklarz proceeded to ask about possible firehouse closures. Venning that the recommendation is not calling for a firehouse closure, but to see which fire engines would be utilized more from which fire station house.

These changes will be implemented on Saturday, January 15.

If the plan doesn’t work, “we can always change it back,” Venning said.

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