Mayor: City won’t pay for 12 new firefighters

Mayor: City won’t pay for 12 new firefighters

WOONSOCKET – The city last week was awarded $1.5 million in federal funding to pay for training of 12 new firefighters, but Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt says Woonsocket will not be picking up the salaries for any additional staffing after the grant expires in three years.

The grant, announced last week by the state’s congressional delegation, was awarded from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s competitive Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. The $1,535,130 in funding is aimed at helping departments to recruit, hire, train and retain more firefighters.

“This is great news for the Woonsocket Fire Department and the community it serves,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee who helped make $345 million available for SAFER hiring grants and supported the department’s application. “It’s often a struggle for cash-strapped communities to find the resources to fully staff and equip their fire departments.”

“The SAFER grant Woonsocket is receiving will go a long way toward improving response times and enhancing the safety of the public and the city’s firefighters,” Reed added. “This is a highly competitive program, and I want to congratulate Mayor Baldelli-Hunt, Chief (Paul) Shatraw, and the entire department for their hard work on this application and their service to the community.”

Shatraw has said his department expects to hire a dozen new firefighters with the money, ensuring that his department is compliant with National Fire Protection Association regulations. Shatraw said he will add a third firefighter to each of the department’s ladder companies, plus one additional firefighter to Station 4 on Mendon Road.

Adding personnel should expedite the time it takes to set up ground ladders, vent buildings, and search burning structures for victims, according to the chief.

Shatraw said he expects to hire the new firefighters in 2018, and then send them to the fire academy.

On Monday, Councilor James Cournoyer questioned the plan.

“I was a little surprised and taken aback,” Cournoyer said of the news that new staff would be added. “ I didn’t know we had a shortage.”

Baldelli-Hunt said she believes the money is focused on covering the cost of training so the city won’t face vacancies and costly fees for overtime when a current firefighter retires.

“We will have firefighters ready to hit the road,” she said.

The SAFER grant subsidizes the salaries of the new firefighters for the first three years, and projects that the new employees will replace existing personnel. Baldelli-Hunt said she does not support retaining the staffing otherwise.

“I can tell you that’s not happening,” said the mayor. “I am not in favor of keeping a dozen firefighters and paying 12 more salaries.”

Shatraw said he has received a package from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the award showing three grant waivers, but that he is still looking into details of the proposal, including cost sharing. He said he plans to make a presentation of the package before the City Council.

With the recent grant to Woonsocket, Rhode Island has received more than $8.5 million in federal fire grant safety funding this year to help 11 fire departments throughout the state. Since 2002, state fire departments and other first responders have won more than $36 million in federal SAFER awards.

Comments

Than James Cournoyer. I could care the heck less if Woonsocket is receiving free firefighters, stop signs, plows or WHATEVER!

ANYTHING 'free' for any amount of time that will benefit our community should be accepted with open arms. I'm not saying Jim shouldn't question what happens after 3 years and the grant runs out.

Its all about HOW you go about with your 'questioning' and the underlying prerogative that you have against the Mayor and her administration. Looks, feels, smells and sounds a lot like the way Washington is being ran right now. People aren't blind or dumb Jim.

Doesn't researching, writing and applying for grants take a LOT of time? What a slap in the face to whoever put in the hard work for Woonsocket to receive this grant while Jim was in his office at his full time job.

Woond-Ed,
The headline in the local press stated: “City to ADD 12 firefighters”.

The article reported:
“Chief Paul Shatraw says he plans to ADD a third firefighter to each of the department’s ladder companies …thanks to $1.5 million in federal grant funding that will enable the Woonsocket Fire Department to HIRE an ADDITIONAL 12 firefighters next year.”

“Shatraw says the $1.5 awarded to Woonsocket will help fund the HIRING of 12 full-time firefighters and ENSURE that the department is compliant with the National Fire Protection Association regulations.”

The grant “will enable the fire department to recruit, hire, train and retain the ADDITIONAL firefighters.”

So with the above in mind, what exactly is your problem with asking what is going on? It was reported that the 12 ADDITIONAL positions would allow us to ensure “compliance with NFPA regulations", but the Council has never been told that we have a shortage or that we are not currently in compliance with NFPA regulations.

Certainly, you don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that a Councilperson would be “taken aback” to learn from a newspaper article / press release that we have a shortage of firefighters or that we are not in compliance with certain regulations - especially since we just finished the Budget and there was no mention of such issues.

Perhaps you believe that is how a city should operate – by press release, as opposed to open dialogue and collaborative communication between the Executive and Legislative branches of gov't.

In response to my simple and civil query, the Mayor now says that the grant (if accepted) will be used for Training (not necessarily hiring) and most importantly, that the details are not yet available. Call me crazy, but perhaps the details should have been obtained before running to the press. Perhaps a discussion with the body that actually sets the budget, the levy and the number of employees for the city (i.e. the Council) should have occurred prior to running to the press. Just say’n.

Lastly, there are no free-lunches. That's the mindset that will land the City right back in the hands of Budget Commission.

My point is the ever persistent snarky tone and attitude that you carry. Similar to the one Dan Gendron carried with him 2 years ago when he would spend 1hr each council meeting 'questioning' every agenda item. Funny how he doesn't do that anymore aye?...

Maybe you should voice concern to the to Fire Chief not city hall regarding a shortage of firefighters! God forbid if the mayor or department heads ever asked for additional job positions or people to hire! We already saw what you would do haha

'Collaborative Communication' Jim? How is 99% of votes that end in 5-2 collaborative? If I'm not mistaken, you alone developed the budget for this year, correct? 'Collaborative' is not the appropriate word.

Another example of your negative mindset "....that will land the city right back in the hands of the budget commission..." Well I sure hope not because YOU thoroughly made the budget and would be the most responsible!

PS - it's like night and day how better off the city is now compared to 5 years ago. If you're still referring to a budget commission then you should re-evaluate what your mission and job to this city is. We need forward looking leaders not ones stuck in the past.

"Shatraw has said his department expects to HIRE a dozen new firefighters with the money, ensuring that his department is compliant with National Fire Protection Association regulations. Shatraw said he will add a third firefighter to each of the department’s ladder companies, plus one additional firefighter to Station 4 on Mendon Road. "

This is in response to your statement at the end of your comment "...the Mayor now says that the grant (if accepted) will be used for Training (not necessarily hiring) and most importantly, that the details are not yet available..."

I think I know how to read and comprehend stuff so correct me if I'm wrong - but the money will go towards training and will enable the Chief to HIRE 1 additional firefighter for each ladder company....it doesn't take a genius to understand that the grant will only cover that 3 year period.

After the 3 years, the additional firefighters are no longer funded and the department is brought back to the current staffing level, the city receives another grant to continue paying for these firefighters or hopefully the city is in a better financial position to keep some, or all, on payroll...

I'm more informed than....you?

The article said the City was HIRING and ADDING 12 new positions and that by doing so we would then be "compliant with NFPA regulations".

As a Councilperson, I merely stated that (1) I was surprised and taken aback to learn from a Press Release / Newspaper Headline that the Chief was planning to ADD a dozen staff members and that we had a shortage of staff that was somehow causing us to not be in compliance with certain regulations and (2) would there at some point be a discussion with the Council - you know, the body that actually makes the decisions on the Budget, the Tax Levy and Staffing. Not sure why you have your panties in a twist over that or why you perceive such a query as being "negative" or "against the Mayor and her administration". It is called discussion and dialogue. Said differently, it is called "doing our job".

That said, based on the ensuing discussion, the Mayor painted a different picture than what was previously reported - that is, the grant would be to fund "training" (whatever that means - to be determined) and more importantly, "the particulars" were not yet known (which begs the obvious question of why have a press release prior to understanding all the facts and particulars).

And by the way - a Probationary/Training FF costs the City approximately $55,000-60,000 per year in Salary & Benefits. Twelve would cost approximately $665,000 per year, and approximately $2 million over 3 years. With that said, do you think it is OK if the Council asks some questions about how this is supposed to work and how a $1.5 million grant is going to cover the cost of 12 FFs for 3 years? Or should the Council just shut their mouths and rely on whatever the next Press Release says?

Carry on.

Since when are you such an advocate for positions to be filled and funded?

In the past budget, the Mayor requested a couple of new positions to assist with city operations and promotion no? You shot that down (because God forbid it benefits her/city hall).

The Police Chief requested a new positon or equipment or something, stating it was extremely important, and you shot that down.

The public works department's staffing has been cut over the years from previous levels and the current Director has asked for increased funds for both new employees and equipment. I think these requests have been shot down as well.

The Planning Department (one of the most important departments for the future of our city) requested an additional position this past year. Not only did you reject that, but you initially slashed a position.

What about the internships that the city was spending a whopping $10,000 on? That was slashed.

I vividly remember these directors stating, outside of Fagnant's meeting over a cup of coffee with the Police Chief, that basically no councilors discussed their needs before the budget was proposed.

Did you ever speak to these departments or the fire department to learn if they were understaffed? I guess not! Hence, why you learn from the paper instead of face to face.

See the point/deeper meaning here?....

If you think a press release letting the public know about this good news is too premature then call the State House.

Lol. You guys love to fight.

We are in a catch 22 regarding these grants. On one hand, we still don't have a recent safety study to play off of. This has been and on/off topic in the City Council since 2007 I believe. Sometimes it was just conversation, once the proposal was defeated, most recently a resolution was passed but worded weirdly and then brushed aside. How hard is it to straight up authorize an RPF like we do for everything?

I remember some push back against the study, claiming it could be a liability if it exposes certain weaknesses and the city isn't ready to remedy those issues. Then if something happens and someone claims negligence. The argument against that is you can claim negligence for not looking for the problems in the first place. There is also the CBA argument, that a study could be used by either side for hard bargaining. But again, it's not the study's fault. It's like not going to the doctor cause you suspect you might have a problem and you don't want to have to deal with it. Lol. A study needs to be properly authorized and conducted and then we move from there.

But anyway. For the issue at hand, it's too late for a safety study...which is a shame. So we are left with the info we have. More questions need to be asked and this is great opportunity for a work session. The City is spending $1 million on overtime pay for Fire alone. So there's that. Some of the questions I would ask is what is the actual/projected turnover of employees? How does 12 more fit into the regular hiring schedule? Will those hirings offset the overtime pay? Clearly, there will be answers to how the grant can specifically be used, what happens after, and can it be re-applied.

My biggest beef is there really is no plan. If I told you the city plans to build a new central fire headquarters and consolidate some of the operations, this would change the approach. If I proposed that we use the fire dept for more revenue streams, like alarm monitoring, this would change the approach. This is the same for police, for public works, for the schools, and every other department the city manages. Every time something new rears its head, we are always caught off guard. Sometimes these are problems and many times they are opportunities. We are never ready! Then we end up paying extra for something half-assed or we miss out on something good. We have a new water plant going up. Is there additional revenue to be had from that? If the past is an indicator, we'll wait until its completed before we explore...if at all.

We have $1.5 million on the table. We are considering balking at it because we don't have a plan.

Nobody should be making this into something it isn't. This isn't complex and isn't something to even debate really.

Take the grant and use the money for what it's intended. In the meantime, as Jim C suggested, start a discussion to plan for what to do after the 3 years. Very simple.

Making things complex for no reason is why government stalls and nothing gets done.

Woond-ED:

You had a number of "I think" and "or something" statements with regard to the Budget. Unfortunately, it appears that you may have been misinformed by some of the dishonest rhetoric that comes from certain parties.

Contrary to your comments, the Planning Department did NOT request a new position that was rejected by the Council.

The Public Works department did NOT receive any cuts to its Equipment requests, nor did the Police or Fire departments receive any cuts to their requests for new equipment.

Regarding your question: "Did you ever speak to these departments or the fire department to learn if they were understaffed?" - the answer is that is why we have a Budget Process. The departments submit their requests to the Mayor. The Mayor then makes her adjustments and submits her consolidated request to the Council. The Council then holds a Public hearing to discuss and review the Budget (which the Mayor chose not to attend), as well as a Work Session with the Administration. At both of these meetings, the department heads, including the Chiefs, are able to present their budgets and articulate what, if any, needs they have. With respect to the FD, there was no mention or request for more dollars or staff. So, I am not sure why it is so upsetting to you that I would have been surprised and "taken aback" to learn (from a newspaper headline) that there is now a belief that we need 12 additional staff, without having received any prior communication or discussion on the matter.

Also, leading up to the Budget, Councilman Fagnant indeed spent a great deal of time meeting with various department heads, including the Chiefs.

Yes, we have to look forward. But if you don't understand the past, you are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past (e.g. Budget Commission).

And yes, we'd all like to add staff and resources to EVERY department. Hell, we'd like to have one teacher for every student; we'd like to have one police officer and one firefighter standing outside every home and business. But we cannot afford it. So we have to make hard decisions with respect to allocating our limited resources.

And yes, good people will have different views and disagreements on how those limited resources should be allocated as we all attempt to navigate the delicate balance between having enough of X (e.g. FFs) and not taxing people out of their homes and businesses. It is not an easy task. But it is made infinitely harder if you attempt to govern by Press Release.

You may not like it, but the reality is that the Mayor unfortunately ran to the press with this grant prior to having any discussion whatsoever with the Council and prior to having or herself understanding any of the "particulars". Sorry, but in my world, that is not optimal and that does not foster and facilitate the conversations and collaborative approach that is necessary to move the city forward. That said, it is what it is and we will move forward - the Chief has committed to getting the details and sitting down with the Council to collectively decide how we proceed with this potential opportunity.

Things like this grant should be simple. But, this city has a habit of complicating things due to lack of foresight. We face almost the same exact issue at least once every year. The State wants to turn over the Voc School and a bunch of money. We were not prepared. The State turned over WWII Park and a bunch of money. We were not prepared. The Middle School broke and we put it on a dump site because we were not prepared. The water plant began failing after it's expected life and we were not prepared. We win grants for teacher staffing and turn it down because we are not prepared. We get a landfall of a grant for the FD and we are not prepared.

6 months from now, we'll be tossed another bone that any other town would drool over. We won't be prepared and will probably balk at it again. It's like your parents offering to pay 80% of your college tuition and you haven't even considered going to college.

There's no plan. There's no direction. There's no foresight. We are still running the city paycheck to paycheck and crossing our fingers that we don't get any hiccups. Guess what? There's going to be hiccups. Get a plan.

Jim C - did you happen to see who broke the news first regarding the grant? It was Jack Reed's office.

And you know what? Good for the Mayor letting the press know about this awesome news! Positive headlines are the best . Seems like you feel 'left out'?

"The city's $1,535,130 grant award was announced Tuesday by US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt."

Of course, the headline and the related article made no mention of the fact that the Mayor did not have the "particulars" and that she did not actually know how this grant would work or what conditions and requirements would be placed on the city in order to receive the "free" funds.

But hey, never let the facts get in the way of a good "positive" story, right? That's how a City should be run, right?

Please, stop putting the cart before the horse for the sake a "positive story". In other words, please, spare us the spin.

Jim C - did you happen to see who broke the news first regarding the grant? It was Jack Reed's office.Jack Reed and ALL the DEMOCRATS in this TAXED to DEATH State NEED TO BE VOTED OUT !