Cortland Mayor Questioning Costs Associated With Fire Dept Mutual Aide Agreements
With costs on the rise and increased pressure on property tax payers Cortland City Mayor Brian Tobin is calling for a review of the fire department's mutual aide agreements which allow the city's paid fire department to respond to calls outside the city limits.
Last night the City Council and Cortland Fire Chief Chuck Glover had a discussion regarding the future of the mutual aid agreement that allows the city to respond to outside calls but also allows departments from outside the city to be called in during large fires or other emergencies.
The current agreement is expired and needs to be renewed, Tobin says now is the time to look at the mutual aid agreement and determine if it is in the city's interest to renew as is or look at possible modifications.
Tobin says the Cortland City Fire Departments paid staff is the backbone of the local fire service, city residents pay a premium to have a well trained department on staff at all times to respond to calls. Through the mutual aide agreement other communities benefit from that service but do not directly share the cost, that's something he feels needs to be looked at.
This year the city will spend over $3.5 million on fire services, over $2 million of that is in personnel costs alone. Tobin says having equipment to respond to an emergency is only part of the picture, having a trained staff is real expense. Tobin points out that in addition to having a department that is staffed full time, many of the paid firefighters also volunteer in other local departments which benefit from the city's trained rescuers.
The city maintains the county's only hazardous materials response team and is in the process of forming a swift water rescue team that would also respond to calls outside the city.
City Fire Chief Chuck Glover encouraged the council not to consider opting out of the mutual aide agreement, he says in the event of a major emergency his department can only do so much and he relies on mutual aide to adequately protect lives and property.
Glover says the city responds to roughly 5 mutual aide calls per month, often.
Under the mutual aide agreements if a fire truck or other equipment is damaged outside of its home district the agency that called in the extra help is responsible for the repairs, but if firefighters get hurt or killed outside their home district, the costs fall to their own departments. Tobin says that cost increases for the city because if a firefighter can't work the city must backfill the position with overtime.
The council has tabled renewal of the mutual aide agreement, Tobin wants members of the City Council along with the City Fire Commissioners to review the agreement and look at areas where the city could recoup the cost of training and other expenses if firefighters are injured outside the city.