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Watertown City Council may vote on fire department study

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WATERTOWN — Reacting to discussion during this spring’s budget process, City Council members are expected to vote Monday to hire a consultant who would complete a comprehensive analysis of the city Fire Department.

City Manager Sharon A. Addison has proposed spending $56,000 to hire the International City/County Management Association to assess the Fire Department’s staff, equipment and facilities.

The New York Council of Mayors suggested that the city turn to ICMA, an association representing professionals in local government management, to conduct the study, Ms. Addison said.

The assessment would include looking at the department’s organizational structure, studying actual workloads, identifying appropriate staffing and looking at response times, equipment and facilities.

Ms. Addison said she hopes the study will begin by the end of June. It would be completed within 135 days.

During city budget discussions, council members informally agreed that the department, which has an $8.8 million budget, should be evaluated. They contend that a study is needed to determine the efficiency of the department and whether the staff level, at 78 members, is appropriate.

“The study is pretty much driven by the council,” Ms. Addison said.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said Friday the assessment should begin as quickly as possible.

“I think we should get going on it, instead of dilly-dallying around,” he said.

Fire Chief Dale C. Herman was told Wednesday that council members were going to consider the consultant at Monday night’s meeting. On Friday, he said he did not know much about how the consultant would proceed, but the firm had assembled a team with the necessary credentials to know what is needed by a fire department to do its job.

He expects to learn more about the study after the ICMA team visits Watertown to talk to him and city staff about what would be evaluated. He said it would probably takes weeks before he could provide data and details about the department that the consultant would use to begin its analysis.

The consultant team includes experts in public safety, analyzing public safety departments’ workload, public policy and fire and EMS data analysis. The organization has completed more than 200 similar studies, including some in New York, Ms. Addison said.

The last fire department study was completed in 2002.

At any given time, 15 members of the Watertown Fire Department are on duty. Under the firefighters’ contract, 15 people are scheduled to work on each of the three shifts in case of sickness, vacations and overtime. The department has a main fire station on South Massey Street and two substations, one on Mill Street and the other on State Street.

Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191 would have to agree to any staffing changes. The contract expires in June.

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