NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s a budget crunch that has professional firefighters struggling to do their job.
A city of 61,000 protected only by a handful of first responders; the city of Mount Vernon called for help from out-of-town firefighters again last week, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
“They don’t have proper manning to handle a second-, third-, or fourth-alarm fire,” said Former Yonkers Fire Commissioner Anthony Pagano. “They have to call in mutual aid…every time. Every single time Mount Vernon sees smoke or flames, immediately they call in mutual aid.”
Now free to speak without restrictions, Pagano pointed out Yonker’s most recent fire was the 28th mutual call to Mount Vernon this year.
That contrasts with the five times Mount Vernon has given help to a neighboring town. And the Mount Vernon runs tend to be more expensive because the department is so understaffed, Young reported.
“Each one of those persons were sent over to Mount Vernon was on overtime paid for by the citizens of Yonkers,” said Yonkers Fire Union President Barry McGoey. “We sent them over to Mount Vernon for over 6 hours and Mount Vernon didn’t expend any of their own money on overtime for their firefighters.”
Of 37 firefighters at the scene, only 17 were from Mount Vernon. That’s their whole on-duty shift, Young reported.
Yonkers and Pelham Manor crews worked the fire, while White Plains and Greenburgh covered the rest of the city.
“We should have at least 35 firefighters of our own, and maybe 15 or 17 from the other cities working them in and out to get them back to their cities. Not holding them here to supplement our manning,” said Mount Vernon Fire Union President Ernie Richardson.
A major issue at play is with overtime budgets. Cash-strapped Mount Vernon barely has one, where as other departments spend millions.
“Why should my tax dollars be going to Mount Vernon?” said Yonkers resident Rose Riley.
No one faults Mount Vernon’s fire department, but do blame the city government that sets the budget and staffing levels, Young reported.
The fire commissioner said he’s running light.
“(Young: Is 17 firefighters enough for this city?) Twenty is not enough. Thirty is not enough. But it’s what you have, you have to work with. Put it this way, if you have half a team can you do what a full team is going to do?” Mount Vernon Fire Commissioner Noah Lighty.
Critics say Mount Vernon’s approved overtime budget of $100,000 is unrealistic for any urban fire department.
Yonkers is three times the size of Mount Vernon, but has already spent $8 million to cover emergencies, including the out-of-town mutual aid calls.
Voters in the city hit the polls to elect a mayor and two of five City Council members next week.