Skip to main content

Batavia council asks manager to prepare report on switching Fire Department to volunteer force

By Howard B. Owens

The City of Batavia should seriously consider replacing the Batavia Fire Department with either an all volunteer, or partial volunteer force, Council President Charlie Mallow suggested during tonight's City Council meeting.

UPDATE: Audio of Mallow's speech provided by WBTA.

His call to have Jason Molino prepare a report on the idea before the council's next conference meeting met with broad support from the other council members, with at least five members backing his thinking and none of the rest raising an objection.

"We live in a city of 16,000 people with a fully funded fire department," Mallow said. "That is probably the most unusual thing you can come across. Our taxpayers are taking a pounding for $3.5 million that 16,000 people have to pay for every year. Can you imagine what we can do -- the town fire department is a little over $1 million -- what we could do with $2.5 million? We could fix their sidewalks in this city. Maybe we could fix our roads without begging for more from the state.

"It's going to take real leadership, because I tell ya, we all know what it took to get rid of that ambulance service and there's still people with signs up even though that issue has long since passed

"Speaking as somebody who is about the fly the coup, it's going to take somebody on this council or the next council to step up and do the right thing no matter how many signs people put up or how many phone calls they make."

Council woman Marianne Clattenburg immediately followed with a "Here, here."

Bill Cox, Bob Bialkowski and Rose Mary Christian all expressed support for Mallow's call for Molino to study up on the issue and prepare a report.

The discussion came in the middle of an agenda item about the car allowance for the city's fire chief, which was an issue put on the agenda by Cox.

"I don't want to argue about $4,000," Mallow said. "I want to argue about $2.5 million."

Cox said now is the time to act on the proposal, while the city's fire department is being run by an interim chief, so that the position wouldn't be changed in the middle of the term of a permanent chief.

The fire fighters union is already claiming a Taylor Law violation because the city voted to eliminate the city's ambulance service, and asked after the meeting if this latest proposal might really run afoul of the Taylor Law, Mallow said, "I've found that your best thing to do is just do the right thing. We did the right thing with the ambulance service and we got complaints because we did the right thing."

As for the car allowance, Molino said he is going to recommend to both the police and fire chiefs that they forgo the city's stipend and use a city vehicle for official business.

Molino explained that the city's employee handbook gives the chiefs the option of an allowance or a city-provided vehicle or a stipend, but after talking with an insurance carrier, the idea of chiefs using personal vehicles for official business should be a grave concern.

If the chiefs were in an accident, even though on official duty, while driving a personal vehicle, their personal insurance company would be the first line of liability. In a serious scenario, the mount of damages could greatly exceed the personal liability coverage.

"I don't think it's good policy to have our city employees at risk of losing everything they've worked their whole lives earning," Molino said.

Both departments have vehicles available -- especially for the fire department once the ambulance service is terminated -- that the chiefs could use and take home to be available in emergencies.

Bea McManis

I like the concept on paper. Generally, things that look super good in concept have major flaws. The first one I can see, and I'm not against the idea of volunteers, is the number of volunteers they could recruit.
There was a time when rural fire departments depended on farmers who were most available to leave what they were doing to fight a fire. With a changing economy, many of these people are employed away from home - many are working miles away from their fire district.
I'd like to see a study from neighboring fire departments to learn exactly how many members they have at their disposal on any given day.
Does the city have a large enough pool of volunteers to make this feasible?
Will the employers be agreeable to having their help leave on a moments notice to perform their duties as a volunteer?
How long would it take to train the new recruits? What is the cost to the city for this training?
Not being familiar with the inner workings of rural fire departments, will the city continue to carry the liability for the volunteers?
I'm all for the concept, just have a few questions.

May 26, 2009, 9:52pm Permalink
Mark Potwora

Karen knowing you i'm sure you will ,i don't want to be in your way.......Don't mess with Gladis,thats what i say.....But to be serious if other towns ands cities with bigger populations can do with a volunteer force then it must be looked into..Batavia is shrinking ,stores are leaving,tax base is less,you can't keep raising taxes.I give city council credit on this..The town of Batavia can do it and they have more stores and factories they provide fire protection for...We need to spend more on the DPW.They are the ones we should be giving raises to.

May 27, 2009, 10:10am Permalink
tom hunt

I wonder what impact of an all volunteer fire department would have on the fire insurance most home owners carry? Would the city of batavia save $$ and the home owner lose?

May 27, 2009, 10:11am Permalink
Dillon Hale

The issue with volunteer departments is if batavia switches to volunteer, they are NOT guaranteed that they will have the manpower, or that people will show up to a call, if there is a fire and like some of the other nearby volunteer districts, people are at work, busy, and not always able to go to the call. If batavia keeps their paid fire department, they will be guaranteed the manpower, and have people able to show up to any calls, like they do now... It never seems important until the call is to your own house.

May 28, 2009, 2:11pm Permalink

Authentically Local