The nearly 200-page fire district study released in May for the town of Van Buren has inspired an intergovernmental meeting June 30 to discuss the future of fire protection in local towns.
The report, compiled by Public Safety Consultant Ron Graner of RFG Associates, indicated more than 60 recommendations, including the dissolution and reoganization of all current fire districts, establishing a regional approach to fire and rescue services that invites the towns of Lysander, Geddes, Camillus and Elbridge to participate, creating a public relations program that educates residents, and creating a region-wide volunteer firefighter recruitment program.
Van Buren Supervisor Claude Sykes, who organized the meeting, said it would allow representatives from the towns of Camillus, Cicero, Van Buren and Onondaga County to discuss the findings of the Van Buren study, and also to look at parallels with similar studies commissioned by Camillus in 2007 and by the fire departments themselves in 2003.
The goal of the meeting is not to jump into a regional program, Sykes said.
Attending will be Sykes, Camillus Supervisor Mary Ann Coogan, Cicero Supervisor Chet Dudzinski and Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney. Howard Tupper and Pat Dickman will accompany Sykes as representatives of Van Buren.
Sykes said he chose to invite Coogan and Dudzinski “since they have similar or worse problems than VanBuren.”
The goal of the meeting will be to at least discuss the partnering between the towns and county to improve the fire protection county-wide as well as in VanBuren, Sykes said.
For Coogan, the meeting could be a sign of much-needed cooperation “all the way around.”
“If there’s a better way, we ought to be doing it,” Coogan said. But, change would not be immediate, she pointed out.
“You have to look at the dollar and what you’re getting for it, but safety is always first, so there’s a lot of things to be looked at and discussed.”
Coogan said she had not read the study yet but that the findings seemed to be similar to the 2007 Camillus study.
Dudzinski said he wasn’t sure what would come out of the meeting June 30, but he thought it would be wise to at least look into consolidating the departments.
“We need to make sure that we’re looking at what we’re spending for our fire protection without compromising people’s safety,” he said. “We have a lot of duplication of services. Along Route 11 alone, we have ladder trucks in North Syracuse and Brewerton, and Cicero just bought a ladder truck last year for $1 million. Do we need all of that? I think probably not.”
Dudzinski said he thought the city of Syracuse provided a good example of what the three towns might try to do.
“The city has different fire houses to provide coverage, but they have one chief and some deputy chiefs,” he said. “That’s something we might look into.”
Dudzinski also said the options would have to be discussed with the local volunteer departments.
“I haven’t had any formal conversations with them yet, but the people I have talked to don’t seem to really have an issue with it,” he said. “They understand what the ramifications are [if we don’t].”
Sykes said he chose not to invite representatives from the town of Elbridge, though it was one of the towns included in the study’s recommendations, because Elbridge Supervisor Ken Bush had not expressed problems with the current fire system to Sykes. The town of Lysander was also excluded from the June 30 meeting because it is gearing up to have its own study done.
“I think this ball has to begin rolling by larger towns pushing it and the smaller, more rural towns will eventually follow suit,” Sykes said.
Onondaga County Executive Joanne Mahoney, who will also attend the meeting, said Sykes and Coogan are leaders in addressing how emergency services are delivered.
“Ensuring public safety is the most important responsibility we have as public officials,” Mahoney said.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.