Over the course of the past few months, fire department staffing and overtime pay continue to be at the forefront of conversation between the City of Newburgh officials and staff and the City of Newburgh Fire Department.
During the past few months, the city fire department has battled several fires reported at Lander Street, Overlook Place, Wilkins Street, South Miller Street, and First Street to name a few. However, on June 15, the fire at Lander Street ended in tragedy as city resident Debra Benedict died at the scene. Firefighters battled the flames but were unable to reach her.
Following the Lander Street fire, members of the City of Newburgh Firefighters IAFF Local 589, department supporters and other city residents appeared before the city council in July. A majority of the comments expressed were out of frustration about the staffing within the fire department and other factors that could have prevented the tragic outcome.
The staffing frustrations, mainly from the fire department, stem back from January 2022 when the city was seeking to reduce $1.7 million in overtime pay. At the recommendation of City Manager Todd Venning, he brought forward the recommendation of fire personnel changes. Implemented on January 15, the reallocation proposal kept the same number of fire personnel per vehicle with an assistant chief overseeing operations. No firehouses were to close and there would be no changes to schedules or shifts. In addition, fire personnel and equipment would be called based on the fire severity and immediate need for equipment.
Mayor Torrance Harvey said that he and the city council have since received criticism for that decision back in January. Even still, criticism comes before the council from when the city conducted layoffs to the fire and police departments heading into 2020.
Despite the criticism, Harvey provided an update when speaking about overtime pay in the city.
“From January to June, six months, two fiscal quarters, almost half a million dollars in overtime has been saved,” said Harvey.
IAFF Local 589 President Nicholas Bedetti, a 14 year member of the fire department, said he was frustrated about the outcome that resulted on June 15 and was one of the commentators during the July meeting. Bedetti is still seeking city personnel and the city council members to come to the firehouse to learn and see firsthand what fire personnel do on a daily basis and to have conversations with city leadership.
“We [the fire department] show up, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to protect the citizens of Newburgh,” Bedetti said. “We understand overtime is a problem, we’re willing to work with the city. A lot of things need to be negotiated.”
Addressing the staffing issues in the fire department, Harvey has suggested that union leadership and the city manager speak about potentially hiring part-time firefighters. Additionally, several council members have shared that contract negotiations involving fire department personnel are currently on-going but the city council is not directly involved in those negotiations.