The City of Utica dug itself out of a hole by taking on major public safety cuts in this year's budget season. Now it appears that may not have been enough. Our Andrew Sorensen tells us what that could mean for the city fire department as they look toward a more cost-effective future.
UTICA, N.Y.-- In Chief Russell Brooks' time with the Utica Fire Department, he's seen some big changes.
"When I was appointed to the fire department, there were 256 firefighters in Utica and there were stations in every neighborhood," said Brooks.
Now there are only 119 firefighters and six stations and even bigger changes could be down the road. Frank Meola, head of the common council public safety committee, wants to follow Rome's example in consolidating the fire department.
"One firehouse means one electrical bill, one water bill, one insurance bill and it keeps the overhead low," Meola said.
Eventually, Meola wants to see one central hub station and one in North Utica. For now, he's directed Chief Brooks' to report on the feasibility of closing two firehouses. Brooks sees a lot of risk in the idea, including increased response times.
"The rigs are all staffed with paramedics, they have advanced life support equipment, it's like having the emergency room at your front door," Brooks explained.
Closing down to one fire house for the central part of the city could be an extremely risky move when combined with another major project the city has in the works.
"The station on Oneida Square, they go down Plant Street and they cross the Arterial on Sunset Ave. Well that avenue is going to be closed with the renovation of the Arterial," Brooks said.
It will also close Warren Street, making Fire House One critical to West Utica, but that could be one of the first houses to go.
The chief says he's looking into it as directed, but safety is his first priority.
"There are options for consolidating but that would require building new stations," he said.
He added he plans to propose new green fire houses, which could save the city enough money to keep more than one open. Meola may disagree on the numbers, but he likes the vision.
"Just imagine if we had a green facility with a state of the art facility, just imagine the money the tax payers could save," the councilman said.
If the chief's plan works out to be safe enough and cost effective, it could be a new positive chapter at the end of the department’s long trend of cuts.
The public safety committee plans to combine a cost analysis with the chief's findings to include in city's budgetary plans for next year.