The ongoing dispute between the city and its fire union resulted in the elimination of four assistant fire chief positions this week, but a new development Wednesday revealed two laid-off firefighters will be reinstated to their posts next week.
In an effort to restructure the fire department, City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie informed the union Tuesday night that the three remaining assistant fire chiefs will no longer hold that title. They won’t be losing their jobs, but they will now drop down to the rank of captain. The restructure will take effect March 1.
Mr. Jellie said Wednesday that this is just the next phase in the city’s reorganization of the fire department. But Jason T. Bouchard, president of Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters, Local 1799, said Wednesday night that the shift restructure goes against the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
“The union would prefer (city leadership) honor the shift structure laid out in the contract,” Mr. Bouchard said.
The union’s current contract with the city states that the shift structure at all times should consist of one assistant chief, one captain and four firefighters. With the restructure, there will be four captain positions and the rest will be conventional firefighters, and it’s expected that each shift will be staffed with just five men — one captain and four firefighters.
The original structure of the fire department’s leadership called for four assistant chief positions and four captain positions, but the department is currently operating with three assistant chiefs and one captain. With the restructure, the three assistant chiefs will be dropped to the rank of captain to fill the three vacant captain positions.
The reason there are three vacant leadership positions is because of recent retirements.
When the city passed its 2021 budget Dec. 9 of last year, fire department staffing was reduced from 27 positions to 20, which violated the union’s minimum staffing agreement that states the department cannot have fewer than 24 firefighters. In order to curb the issuance of seven layoff notices, Mr. Jellie offered a $25,000 retirement incentive to eligible firefighters. The offer expired New Year’s Eve.