After public turnout, N.Y. village will keep paid fire department driver position

Chris A. Taylor, a Potsdam volunteer firefighter and former chief, explained that paid drivers often arrive on scene before volunteer firefighters can


Andy Gardner
Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM, N.Y. — Village trustees and Mayor Reinhold J. "Ron" Tischler say they will keep four paid fire department driver positions after one of the drivers retires.

They spoke on the matter after members of the public, including volunteer firefighters, a county legislator, the Potsdam Housing Authority director and a teacher assistant union president, showed up to the Monday night meeting and told the board that cutting the position would threaten public safety. After they made their comments, the elected officials said they all support maintaining the position.

Robert Pierce will retire on Aug. 19 after 33 years with the Potsdam Fire Department. He replacement will be hired.
Robert Pierce will retire on Aug. 19 after 33 years with the Potsdam Fire Department. He replacement will be hired. (Photo/Potsdam Fire Department)

Robert Pierce will retire on Aug. 19 after 33 years with the department. Later in the meeting, the board passed a motion recognizing his retirement "with regret."

Chris A. Taylor, a Potsdam volunteer firefighter and former chief, told trustees the paid drivers are often the first ones responding to a scene, often within two or three minutes. That's because they have fewer volunteers, and the ones they do have often take a bit longer to respond than the paid drivers on standby at the fire station. He says that initial quick response is crucial because of how fast a fire can spread.

"There's a big problem. People do not understand fire growth and development," he said. "One of the first things (said after a structure fire) is, 'I never thought it would go this fast.'"

"Paid fire drivers are a critical part of protection in this community," Taylor added. "They're not something I'm willing to do without."

St. Lawrence County Legislator Margaret I. Haggard, D- Potsdam, told the board that she understands how quickly a fire can spread and how a quick response from the fire department can save lives. Her sister died in a house fire on Lawrence Avenue years ago. She said the paid driver position is critical to protecting the community.

"We have been forever indebted to their service. We're not willing to risk this again," she said. "Please retain the paid firefighter position as the citizens of our village depend on this service and we must do all we can to support our heroes in fire and rescue."

Robert T. Santamoor, executive director of the Potsdam Housing Authority, said there have been a couple of close calls in their residences where a slower response could have led to a tragic outcome.

"We have had a couple incidents where one or two minutes makes a big difference in response time," he said. "If we cut that person out of the budget, that could have been a catastrophic difference ... I would implore you also to really reconsider this."

John L. Collins, a teaching assistant through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services at Potsdam High School and president of the teacher assistant union, said he felt the village was "stepping over a dollar to pick up a nickel."

"Long response times can be dangerous and even deadly," he said. "We need those drivers ready when the calls come in."

Following the comments, village board members said they all supported filling the fire driver position. They mentioned that the idea of cutting positions through attrition usually comes up when there's a retirement or resignation, which is intended to reduce the tax burden. They all said that's not the right solution for this position.

"Money's in the budget for a new driver this year, 2022-23 budget," said Tischler. "I've always been a real strong proponent of fire, safety, rescue ... I am in full support of filling that position."

"We're always looking at ways through attrition to reduce our tax deficit. That's where this conversation started," said Trustee Abby D. Lee. "Public safety and service comes first."

"My take-home message is a slight sense of alarm that the number of people volunteering is going down," Trustee Monique M. Tirion said. "We couldn't keep this village safe without you. Yes, I support the fourth driver."

"It was a moot point at the beginning of the conversation. We were never going to do anything with not paying for a fourth driver," Trustee Stephen J. Warr said. "In my mind, we're always going to hire them. I support hiring them anyway."

Trustee Alexandra M. Jacobs-Wilke was excused from the meeting. Tischler told the board that he'd spoken to her and she also supports funding the fire driver position.

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