City Fire Engine 1 first to go dark under 'dynamic staffing'

July 01, 2019 08:48 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For the first time, a Rochester fire station will go dark from 6 p.m. Monday until 8 a.m. Tuesday as the City rolls out its dynamic staffing initiative.  

Dynamic staffing requires moving firefighters to other firehouses while the ones they normally work at close for a set number of hours per day. It will happen on nights and weekends only when firefighters call in sick.

Of the 13 engine companies in the City, 10 will be eligible for "brown-outs" based on their size and proximity to other stations. The City says it studied the measure and found dynamic staffing could save taxpayers $1.2 million without significantly impacting response times. 

The first station to go dark under the plan is Engine 1, which is at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Alexander Street.  Nearby engines will cover its service area when a call comes in between 6 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday.  

Even though the City says response times will only be impacted by seconds, some people who live in the area, aren't convinced.

Skylar Spencer, his wife Jenn and their one-year-old daughter Annie live one block away from Engine 1. Spencer has epilepsy that causes cluster seizures which often require immediate medical attention.

"He stops breathing and I have a baby and it's scary," explains his wife Jenn. "You want somebody to come right at that second and part of the reason we moved here is because the Fire Department is down the road." 

They've had to call for paramedics a few times in the last year.

"Most of the time, they're not that bad, but it's going to be the one time that they are bad and those couple minutes can mean something and it's not just for me and our situation," said Skylar. "It's for any other family that has elderly or disabled individuals that require that quick response time."

The Union that represents Rochester Fire Fighters, local 1071, tells News10NBC in a statement: 

"The Rochester Firefighters union has grave concerns about the implementation of the City's 'dynamic staffing' program, which will 'brown-out', or take out of service, some firehouses for selected periods of time. The impact of this practice will be to increase response times, which as a result needlessly places citizens and businesses in our community, as well as firefighters, at greater risk. During this coming week, we will be meeting with a number of neighborhood groups and business organizations, all of which share our concerns regarding 'dynamic staffing', and the City administration's obvious failure to make public safety a priority."

City Councilman Willie Lightfoot heads up the public safety committee.

"We were not really in favor of dynamic staffing, we felt that it was too aggressive of an approach to take within the community," he told News10NBC.

So, why did he and other council members let it pass in the budget? 

"We don't get to line-item veto items within the budget and I felt that there was so much positive within the budget. I just couldn't justify voting no against the entire budget for this one instance," he explains.  

The budget did include a $600,000 increase in funding for the Rochester Fire Department, it doesn't close any fire stations permanently and it actually adds a new position.  

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) - If the Mayor's office and Fire Chief decide that it's full steam ahead with dynamic staffing, is there anything the City Council can do at this point?  

Willie Lightfoot - Yea, that's a part of the budget process.  Once we vote on the budget, I don't think there is anything, as far as our power, that we can do outside of just demanding we constantly be updated, making sure that we're tracking it.

News10NBC requested an interview with both Mayor Lovely Warren and Fire Chief Will Jackson, we were told both were unavailable on Monday but City Spokesman Justin Roj, did address questions on the topic with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke:

Justin Roj - Even if there is dynamic staffing, the difference on average is about 18 seconds so we're already in the process of looking at ways to improve turnout time leaving the station and ways to improve dispatch time that will more than makeup for that.

Jennifer Lewke - How will someone know whether their station is going to close that night or not?  

Justin Roj - Well, it's not, just like today...right now as we're sitting here, there are stations that are closed for training.  We don't notify the public.  It's really about response times and response times aren't going to be impacted so there's not a need to unduly share information that may give people a false sense of fear, they shouldn't have because it's not going to impact public safety.  

Jennifer Lewke - I would ask him this question directly if he was available but how is the fire chief deciding which stations will close and when?  

Justin Roj - It's entirely based on his knowledge of operations and when he feels it can be done in order to protect the community>

Jennifer Lewke – I spoke with a man who has epilepsy, seconds can be the difference between life and death for him sometimes, is that something that was taken into consideration by City Hall? 

Justin Roj - Well, of course and no matter what happens in terms of any response to calls, you can have issues that occur but what we're confident is that overall dynamic staffing is going to keep the community safe, save taxpayer dollars and allow us to respond to each and every call in an appropriate way.


Jennifer Lewke

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