Town Break-Away Fire Department Adds Up To Dangers, But No Savings


Break-Away Fire Department

Equals Dangers, No Savings

To the Editor:


If you live in the Town of Oneonta and are concerned about losing your ’round-the-clock professional fire protection, please attend the public hearing at 6 p.m. this coming Tuesday, March 14, at Elm Park Methodist Church, 401 Chestnut St.

The majority of town residents (unless you live west of Route 205) have for decades been protected by the professional firefighters of the Oneonta City Fire Department. A comprehensive survey mailed to all residents in 2013 showed that 85 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the fire protection services. This reflected the city’s extraordinary 6-minute, 5-second response time and was the highest level of satisfaction for any town government service.

Accordingly, the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, after review and feedback by residents, was adopted and included a recommendation that the Town Fire District continue its current arrangement with the City. While there is a significant cost associated with this protection, most residents believe it to be worth the investment. Minutes from the Fire District’s February meeting show that no complaints were filed by fire district taxpayers regarding their annual fire tax bill.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that town residents are happy with their professional fire protection, the fire commissioners (each elected by a handful of voters in little-known December elections) have been working behind the scenes to develop their own volunteer department, replacing our professional fire protection. This week may be your last opportunity to voice your dissatisfaction with that outcome.

Their claim is that a volunteer force would be less costly, but this is dubious given the fact that residents would have to pay for a building, equipment, training, legal fees, insurance, etc.

Additionally, if the town cancelled its annual contribution to the City Fire Department, one option for the city would be to make it up in other ways. Would they shift the expense to the ambulance contract, raise water and sewer rates, hike park usage fees, or institute a commuter tax for town residents? All possibilities.

The fire commissioners are likely relying on a flawed assumption that the OFD will always provide the same mutual aid, even if the town isn’t paying. But if the town burns its bridges (so to speak) with the city, why wouldn’t the city reduce mutual fire aid to the town or charge per response?

There will be no long-term savings.

The most concerning outcome of this action would be a decrease in the quality of fire protection for our region. We will go from having one strong department to two weaker ones.

Even if the city does continue its mutual aid, the quality of that aid will be reduced. With over one-third of their budget removed, the City Fire Department will be forced to reduce the size of their force and have lower quality equipment.

This makes the town and city less safe, not to mention our wider region. Just last month, OFD responded to Cobleskill with its ladder truck. Without the support of our town, the only professional fire department in our region will be degraded beyond recognition.

Your property insurance rates will increase and economic development will be harmed. Corporations and nonprofits will be less likely to invest in areas that are protected by volunteer rather than professional forces.

Have the fire commissioners spoken with the Southside store owners? How about the hotels, the colleges, or Springbrook, all of which have property in the district?

Volunteer firefighters provide an admirable service, but they cannot equal professional full-time employees. Concerned residents must make their views known and put the brakes on this ill-considered and radical change to our regional public safety.


County Representative

Town of Oneonta


One thought on “Town Break-Away Fire Department Adds Up To Dangers, But No Savings

  1. Anonymous

    There may be an increase in home owners insurance and the business in the town may have a considerable increase in there premiums,this maybe something to look in too, Would they get away with one station or would two be better to service the town ? I know Fire Departments have problems with recruiting and retaining volunteers

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