By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Negotiations between City Hall and the Oneonta Professional Firefighters have spilled out into the open.
The Oneonta Professional Firefighters accused Mayor Gary Herzig of “mischaracterizing” OPF’s “advocacy for maintaining adequate staffing” of the Oneonta Fire Department in a Dec. 17 press release.
OPF President Andrew Turner reiterated the Fire Department’s continuing need for “six trained firefighters…on duty 24/7” in order to keep Oneonta safe. “This is not an increase in staffing,” he emphasized.
Mayor Herzig had expressed surprise on Dec. 14 in response to an ww.w.AllOtsego.com article reporting OPF had called for increased staffing in a press release the day before. He said the city is seeking “flexibility” on staffing, but declined to go into detail, saying both sides in the talks had agreed to confidentiality.
The back and forth began in a Dec. 13 statement, the OPF said “city officials [needed] to uphold the standard operating procedures of the department” by having “at least six trained firefighters/EMT’s on duty, 24/7 and at least three personnel, trained at EMT level or higher, responding to each medical emergency.”
The OPF released that statement after a fire broke out in a vacant house on Church Street on Dec. 10 when only five of the six on-duty, trained Oneonta firefighters could respond to the fire because one was in Binghamton that day “for mandatory training.”
“Our position is clear,” Turner stated in the OPF’s most recent press release. “We believe that Oneonta’s families are best served, and risk to our members is minimized, when to respond to the needs of our residents, businesses and college campuses.”
Mayor Herzig declined to comment on the OPF’s most recent press release, saying, “I have to respect the agreed-upon confidentiality in the contract negotiations” with the union. He continued, “The city is committed to the greatest degree of safety while still being respectful of how we spend taxpayers’ money.”
The union’s public relations representative Paul Larrabee said, “There have been natural rates of attrition and the city is not maintaining that level of six on duty.” The OPF has recently made what Larrabee calls “a rather focused effort to make it clear, especially on social media” that the Oneonta Fire Department needs to continue “a long-term practice” of having six on-duty firefighters.