City plan reducing staffing at FD backfires on day one

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Staffing changes have taken a fire engine out of service.

NEWBURGH – Just hours after staffing changes to the fire department took a fire engine out of service, the City of Newburgh had to call back firefighters for a blaze on Saturday morning.  The staffing changes were implemented by City Manager Todd Venning to reduce overtime costs.

On Saturday, Engine 1 operating out of the Grand Street Headquarters was shut down for lack of staffing.  The account of the Venning plan that caused the shortage can be read HERE.

With Engine 1 shut down, Engine 3 from the West End and Truck 1 from headquarters responded with a deputy chief to  96 Overlook Place for smoke coming from a window.

The minimal crew on Truck 1 made entry while Engine 3 attempted to hook up to a hydrant, which wasn’t functioning.  The first responders had to find another water source at the same time the truck crew located a fire in the ceiling of the second floor. Using water from the tank on Engine 3, the firefighters were able to battle the blaze while the engine crew outside battled with the frozen hydrant.  To complicate the efforts, neighborhood traffic was reported to be driving over the hose between the hydrant and the fire engine.

“Driving over a fire hose interrupts water supply and places firefighters at risk,” said one firefighter.  “People don’t understand that driving over a hose could kill firefighters that are trying to help people.” City police were called to the scene to shut the roads down while firefighters worked.

Due to the staffing change ordered by Venning, Engine 1 was not staffed on Saturday.  When the Overlook fire was developing, the city was forced to call in staff for the engine, at overtime rates.  When the crew arrived at headquarters, they geared up and responded to the Overlook fire.  The Engine 1 crew consisted of one driver, one officer, and one firefighter.  Prior to the staffing change, those members would have been on duty and ready to respond as soon as the fire was reported.

A second fire on Saturday, during the frigid weather, was reported at 7 Oak Street.  Engine 3 from the West End firehouse responded and required the assistance of the Engine 1 crew, which was called back again after the first fire.  “The two engine crews were able to extinguish the fire and save lives, despite the city manager’s staffing changes,” said an official from IAFF Local 589, the union representing the City of Newburgh career firefighters.

Newburgh firefighters rallied against the staffing changes but were overruled by the city manager.  Less than 24 hours before the fire department  staffing changes, Venning posted an advertisement to hire his own “chief of staff.”  He said this was not a new position.The current individual who holds that post will be leaving shortly.