COHOES, NY – Recently, Cohoes City Councilor Bill Smith (D 1st Ward) asked Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler to keep the Vliet Street Fire Station open 24 hours a day.
“The mayor made a pledge during his campaign that he would quote: ‘Keep the Vliet Street fire station open 24/7, and that we must start putting public safety first.” are his words, I have them, ”Smith mentioned.
Smith argues that after nearly two years and three city budgets, the mayor broke that promise. According to Smith, from January 1, 2020 to September 28, 2021, the station was closed 265 of those 635 days.
“To be honest, I don’t know what his priorities are. He now has almost two years to keep his promise. I don’t know how much longer he needs. He cannot blame the covid as we have received almost $ 1 million in relief funds. Residents of the hills section of our town pay some of the highest taxes and they deserve a 24/7 fire station. It’s just common sense, ”Smith commented.
IAFF – Local 2562 President Rob Wattsman has indicated he would like all three stations to operate daily.
“The Cohoes Uniformed Fire Department (IAFF – Local 2562) members believe the best approach to protecting our residents, visitors and firefighters is to make sure our three fire stations are fully staffed and operational every day.” , said Wattsman.
In response, Keeler said public safety is his top priority and agreed that he would also like the station to be fully operational. While the fire department, on the whole, is fully staffed, Keeler noted that this is a matter of practicality to be profitable for Cohoes taxpayers.
“Public safety is my top priority and I take it very seriously. The point is, the fire department is properly staffed. Beyond that, my 2022 budget calls for the highest number of firefighters in decades, ”Keeler said.
“The point is, the hill could be open 24/7 if the firefighters all showed up. So right now there are 32 firefighters plus a chief, and when six show up, the hill is open. The problem is that collectively these guys take about 220 sick days a year, and a sick day in terms of the fire department is a 24 hour shift, so for a normal eight hour shift, 660 sick days per year. year, so it’s hard to keep the fire station open under these conditions, ”Keeler continued.
“For example, [Wednesday], we had three firefighters on sick leave, one was on vacation, one took his birthday, so the replacement is costing property taxpayers $ 3,300 in overtime. [Thursday,] a firefighter is on vacation and two of them are on union leave and on Saturday we are back where we were [Wednesday] where three guys have already made themselves sick for Saturday and two more are taking a day off, so again $ 3,300 of overtime for taxpayers, ”Keeler explained.
“The firefighters are appropriate. It could and should be open if the guys showed up. They are contractually entitled to vacation, birthdays and sick days and they exercise these options. Again, public safety is my number one need, but I’m also very responsible to taxpayers, and currently 40 percent of the dollars paid by Cohoes property taxpayers go to the fire department’s budget, 40 percent . Now the firefighters union [Wednesday] told members of the city council that we should just raise taxes. I don’t think it’s a good idea, I don’t think it’s necessary. We meet all of the firefighters’ needs, ”Keeler added.
Cohoes Fire Chief Joseph Fahd echoed those sentiments, noting that his service is in better shape than most of the region when it comes to staffing.
“I’ve been here since 2003 and the staff has been 32 for decades and now we’re adding one more guy thanks to the mayor,” Fahd said.
“Surrounding communities were talking about layoffs just over a year ago, we never had these conversations publicly, we never fired anyone and now we have filled all the vacancies and created an additional position,” noted Keeler.
“If you look at Troy and Albany, they’re short positions, we’re not. We have what we’re budgeted for and one more, so we’re in luck, ”Fahd added of the department’s staffing.
In addition to Hill Station, Smith expressed the need for a new centrally located fire station.
“I would like to know where we are in this process. Did we research locations, secure a site, or do some preliminary design work? What is the status on this? Smith said.
Keeler noted that discussions are continuing regarding the planning.
“There is and there is a while, we have a committee, the chief, myself, members of the firefighters’ union, the town planner, but these things do not happen overnight. We talk about it, we talk about it. It’s a process, ”Keeler replied of the status of a potentially new fire station.
Smith also called on the mayor to include funds in the new budget for a new motor pump.
“Our firefighters run with equipment older than my son. Once again he has promised to put public safety first and I am now asking him to keep that promise. I will not support a budget that does not include the necessary funds for the Hill Station firefighters and the new device, ”Smith said.
According to Chief Fahd, the pumper Smith talks about is a reserve.
“The pumper he’s talking about is a spare. Our fleet is aging but it is not 25 years old, the first line aircraft. We use this part when we go out for oil changes and stuff like that, so it’s not in use every day, ”Fahd explained.
“It’s a reserve truck. As the chief said, it’s a safeguard when the main trucks are out. It’s basically used and parades and stuff, but we have the backup in place because it’s good management. The front line trucks are brand new. In reality, [in] In 2018, they got a $ 1.2 million ladder truck, ”Keeler added of the condition of the fire equipment.