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Consultant to analyze operations at Watertown Fire Deptartment

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WATERTOWN — A consultant is ready to start working on finding what the staffing level should be at the Fire Department and whether it has the right types of facilities and equipment.

City Manager Sharon A. Addison and other city officials met Wednesday with a representative of the International City/County Management Association to discuss how the consultant plans to go about completing the study.

“They’re kicking it off with a look at operations,” Ms. Addison said, noting that the consultant intends to conduct telephone interviews and make contacts through emails to see how the department is run.

Initially, the consultants will be in the mode of obtaining information before they start analyzing the operations of the department. The study is slated to be completed within 135 days.

Among the people they want to make initial contact with are Chief Dale C. Herman; Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer, and Bruce G. Wright, president and CEO of Guilfoyle Ambulance Service.

Chief Herman did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, so he did not know what was discussed. Besides Ms. Addison, City Attorney Robert J. Slye and Elizabeth U. Morris, the assistant to the city manager, were at the meeting.

Within 30 days, ICMA representatives will make an on-site visit to meet with key stockholders of the department, Watertown City Council members, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, Chief Herman and others.

Last month, council members agreed to spend $56,000 to hire ICMA to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Fire Department, despite the objection of the local firefighters union. Firefighter Mark W. Jones, president of Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191, criticized the selection of the consultant, calling it a lobbying group for municipal managers. He told council members that it would be an unfair assessment, since Ms. Addison belongs to the organization.

The union offered to pay for half of the study if the city commissioned one that’s “equitable and fair to all parties,” union officials said. The city did not take up the offer.

After getting a recommendation from the New York Conference of Mayors, Ms. Addison proposed hiring ICMA, an association representing professionals in local government management, to conduct the study.

The assessment would include looking at the department’s organizational structure, studying workloads, identifying appropriate staffing and looking at response times, equipment and facilities.

During city budget discussions this spring, council members informally agreed that the department, which has an $8.8 million budget, should be evaluated. They said a study is needed to determine the efficiency of the department and whether the staff level, at 78 members, is appropriate.

The last fire department study was completed in 2002.

At any given time, 15 members of the Watertown Fire Department are on duty. The department has a main fire station on South Massey Street and two substations, one on Mill Street and the other on State Street.

The union would have to agree to any staffing changes. Its contract expired last month.

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