LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) - The Mayor of Lackawanna is sounding the alarm on overtime and handling the problem by closing the fire hall on Abbott Road.
Lackwanna's bravest have racked up 856 hours of overtime in the last two weeks and Mayor Geoff Szymanski calls it abuse of the system. In those two weeks, Mayor Szymanski says there were no calls for fires - just EMT calls. Fire Hall 2 on Abbott Road is shut down temporarily, and those firefighters have to report to either the hall on South Park or the station on Ridge Road.
"We had to make a corrective action immediately, and so we called in the public safety director, the fire chief, and said this is what is going on, this happened in the last two weeks, and we have to change it right now," Szymanski said.
The firefighters' union says overtime is up because of retirements, injuries, and people taking vacation. Under their labor contract, vacation is use it or lose it.
Union representative Lt. Jim Fino said, "We are short-staffed. We have individuals that use their accrued time, whether it be vacation time, holiday time, or personal time."
The mayor says for right now, if a shift is short two or more firefighters, Fire Hall 2 will close. If the shift is fully staffed, it will reopen - so its status can fluctuate shift-to-shift.
"They are going to have figure out how they are going to handle their department," Szymanski said. "Our action is, correct the time, so we can return back to normalcy."
But Lt. Fino says closing a fire house can affect response time and safety.
"The workload does not change, which means the guys on duty will have to do more, and that has been statistically proven - the more work that is being done by the individuals, the more frequent the injuries," Lt. Fino said.
Szymanski points out that mayors have closed firehouses down in the past when overtime gets out of hand and disagrees with the firefighters that public safety is affected by the closure. Last year, Szymanski says firefighters exceeded the overtime budget by more than $200,000.
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