Ithaca, N.Y. — In 2009, there were 72 members of the Ithaca Fire Department. That number has been cut to around 63.

“We’ve held the line in so many places it’s now hurting,” Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons said at City Hall on Wednesday in requesting increases in the fire department’s budget.

Chief Parsons noted that city staff had asked for his highest priority. Parsons said he badly needs help in terms of more personnel and new equipment.

“It’s like saying, ‘I need a hip replacement … I need a heart replacement,’” Parsons said. “It’s all priority.”

The mayor’s recently proposed budget for 2015 calls for the fire department’s funding to stay essentially flat, with a .27%  cut.

Chief Tom Parsons. File photo courtesy of the fire department

Mayor’s response

Mayor Svante Myrick noted that there was an approximately $300,000 increase in the fire department’s budget from 2013 to 2014.

Myrick also pointed to increased costs and said that the firefighters’ union will have to negotiate a lower per-firefighter cost if it wants to increase hiring.

“I welcome their cooperation in bringing down the cost per firefighter,” Myrick said of the firefighters’ union.

In response to comments made by Parsons, Myrick also said that the fire department never sustained cuts on the scale of those made to the police department.

What firefighters want

A letter from Parsons to the city requests adding at least four firefighters and one deputy fire chief.

“Due to budget reductions in training and the increased use of overtime to cover vacancies, the department has had to severely cut back on the amount of staff development and outside training for the department’s officers and firefighters,” he writes.

“The department’s budget has held the line from 2011 through 2014 with less than a 1% increase despite increasing contractual labor and fringe benefit costs.”

You can read more about the mayor’s budget proposals here and here.

A few other points in Parson’s letter:

— The fire department is expecting increases in 2015 travel and training costs.

— 25 current employees will be traveling out of town for EMT recertification.

— The department has not been able to fund needed programs for Technical Rescue, Hazardous Materials and Fire Investigation.

“The department has been able to fill some of the gap with grant funded training, but it’s not been enough to keep up with current and future needs of the department,” Parson’s letter states.

— There are three major capital projects firefighters are requesting, including a new emergency response vehicle, new breathing cylinders and the replacement of a 20-year-old “pumper truck/engine.”

As for the 20-year-old engine, Parsons writes, “The reliability of this vehicle will become an issue the more it is used in front line service while other vehicles are out of service for repairs.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.