Since 2001, the City of Jamestown, New York, has operated with an understaffed fire department, forcing the city to close one fire station per shift on a rotational basis. But thanks to a successful political action strategy and public education campaign implemented by Jamestown, NY Local 137, citizens elected a new mayor who is ready to work with Local 137 members to improve fire fighter and public safety.
“This is a great victory for our Jamestown members,” says 1st District Vice President James Slevin. “They have been doing more with less for far too long. I am proud of the dedication and determination they showed throughout this process.”
“For the first time in two decades, we have a mayor who is ready to do something about our staffing crisis,” says Local 137 President Shawn Shilling. “We want to thank the IAFF for everything it has done. The level of assistance we have received over past six months has been amazing.”
The staffing issues began as soon as Sam Teresi was elected mayor in 2000. One of his first acts as mayor was to make deep cuts to the fire and police departments, including laying off fire fighters – positions that were never brought back.
Teresi proved difficult to challenge. For three of his five terms, he ran for reelection unopposed. When he announced he would not run for a sixth term, Local 137 knew it could not pass on this opportunity to make a positive change.
Local 137 President Shilling reached out to the IAFF for advice and assistance. The Jamestown local needed data and a message in order to make its case for adding fire department resources and electing a mayor who would support that initiative.
Shilling worked with the IAFF to complete a municipal financial analysis and Geographic Information System (GIS) map. From the information collected, it was clear that the city was hurting financially, but not broke. Additionally, staffing needed to increase from nine to 15 fire fighters per shift, in addition to a battalion chief.
Next, Local 137 worked with the IAFF to develop a campaign to educate the public on what these numbers meant for their safety.
One of the problems of having just nine fire fighters was that the ladder company had to serve as the ambulance for medical calls. Local 137 produced a billboard ad showing the ladder truck and the ambulance that read, “You shouldn’t have to choose.”
“That got our citizens talking, as well as the mayoral candidates,” says Shilling. “It became a major talking point during the campaign. Soon, it was clear which candidate was willing to take public safety and the need for additional resources seriously.”
In November 2019, Eddie Sundquist was elected mayor and since taking office in January has already entered negotiations with Local 137, which has not had a contract in four years. Additionally, Sundquist is open to applying for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to hire more fire fighters to reduce or stop the fire station closures.
In addition, the city will have a new fire chief who is expected to work with the mayor and Local 137 on department improvements with the immediate goal of improving public safety and a long-range goal of changing the ISO rating from a 4 to a 2.
As these changes are made, accommodations will need to be made for the increasing call volume, especially medical calls. The local hospital was recently bought by a new corporation whose management has decided the hospital will no longer answer 911 medical calls. For now, the fire department is also handling those.