Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney was in Newburgh Thursday, calling on city officials to reverse course and provide funding to prevent firefighter layoffs. The city’s budget did not include funding for the 12 positions and Maloney says something needs to get figured out locally.
Maloney, a Democrat from the 18th district, says the federal grant that funds the 12 positions runs out in July.
“And what I’m telling you is that for five years, everybody here has known this day is coming. This is not a surprise to anybody. The one thing you know when you get these federal grants is that they are temporary, and you can’t count on the renewal and we got it anyway but, five years later, you sure as hell know you’re not going to get it again,” says Maloney. “So for five years we could have been preparing for this day, and that is something local officials have to answer for.”
Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino…
“I would hope the United States Congress will get its act together and structure these SAFER grants in a way that are more honest and actually recognize that the urban centers of the United States just simply do not have the money.”
Maloney helped secure the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER grants, for the Newburgh Fire Department in 2013 and again in 2016, which allowed the department to hire more than 30 firefighters and bring its firefighter force up to an appropriate level.
“What I’m saying is that the ability to renew this federal grant is gone. We don’t have that ability. We got two issuances of this grant. That’s very unusual. We need to figure this out locally,” Maloney says. “And anybody who tells you there’s some cavalry coming around the corner from the federal government is not paying attention.”
Ciaravino would like Congress to make SAFER grant funding permanent.
“So let’s quit playing this game with the SAFER grant that every two years has us doing press conferences of thanking the United States Congress for our own money to be returned to us,” Ciaravino says. “Having said that, the taxes in the City of Newburgh are some of the highest in the state of New York. The City of Newburgh residents have made it very clear to our leadership, our elected officials that enough is enough.”
To maintain the 12 firefighter positions, the city would have had to impose higher taxes through its budget. Acting Newburgh Fire Chief Terry Ahlers says losing 12 positions would take the fire department down to 56 firefighters.
“What these cuts amount to is one guy off every fire truck on every shift,” says Ahlers. “That’s what we’re going to lose.”
He says though response times will stay at two-to-three minutes, the job will be harder.
“People ask me, what’s the impact going to be, what do we think it’s going to be? I know what it’s going to be,” Ahlers says. “Most of my career we worked with three guys on a fire truck. Guys get hurt and fires get bigger, and there’s nothing that we’re going to able to do to stop that.”
Brendan Hogan is president of the City of Newburgh Professional Firefighters IAFF local 589.
“With the layoff of these guys in July, it’s going to really hamper our abilities to respond and definitely remove the ability for us to provide the support that the code enforcement department needs,” Hogan says.
Here’s Newburgh City Councilmember Jonathan Jacobson.
“And it’s something we have to work on a not only a short-term but a long-term solution to this because we’re losing not only for the protection of people for fires that people think about when they respond to a call but we’re going to lose people that are going to go for code enforcement," says Jacobson. "And if you lose code enforcement, you’re going to have more fires.
Maloney also recognized Newburgh firefighters for their heroism in the November fire at cosmetics factory Verla International in New Windsor. The city firefighters were first on the scene of the blaze that killed one employee. Three of the eight city firefighters injured have returned to work while the other five continue to recuperate. Maloney says one of injured firefighters would be among the 12 laid off.