Syracuse Fire Dept. Earns Highest Rating Ever Amid Concerns about Morale

Jun 28, 2017

Rigs wait in their bays for their next call at SFD Station 1 on S. State St.
Credit Bridget McAllister / WAER News

Budget pressures and the closure of a fire house didn’t seem to be a factor in the Syracuse Fire Department’s ability to protect its residents and property.  The Insurance Service Organization, or ISO has just issued its new score.  Mayor Stephanie Miner shared the accomplishment.

"We received a new rating of 95.64, which is one of the highest in New York State, and the highest score the Syracuse Fire Department has ever received."

That’s almost two points higher than the city’s last rating in 2012, and maintains the department’s ISO-class one rating.   Miner says that translates to lower commercial insurance rates and top-notch protection.  The rating also comes after the controversial closing of a crumbling fire station just east of downtown four years ago. 

"Actually the ISO talked about that, how what a testament it was to the ingenuity, skill, and leadership of the fire department that, despite after closing a fire house, we were able to not just maintain but improve our rating."                       

Mayor Miner, Deputy Chief Young, and Chief Paul Linnertz at Wednesday's press conference.
Credit Bridget McAllister / WAER News

                

But the accomplishment was quickly overshadowed by a vote by the New York State Professional Firefighters Association to censure chief Paul Linnertz.  The resolution was brought by Syracuse Firefighters Local 280.  President Paul Motondo says members feel the chief is making personnel decisions that affect morale, and is not communicating with members.

"I don't see the mayor stopping by our fire houses.  I don't see the chief at our fire houses.  I do communicate with my members.  I hear it every month at our meetings.  Sit down in my office on a Monday morning, the membership comes down, and they're frustrated."

Chief  Paul Linnertz says he takes any concern about morale seriously, but adds that the censure from the state organization is only one side of the story that has no impact on him.

"Every firefighter I talk to says they love coming to work every day.  That's what I use as my benchmark.  Not the complaint of a union; I understand the union’s position.”                                  

Credit Bridget McAllister / WAER News

Mayor Miner acknowledges there will always be personnel grievances, but otherwise can’t see why morale might be low.  She says they can only hire a fraction of those who apply to be a firefighter.

"When you see how many people are interested in being a firefighter, that's important.  When you look at the challenges we have and haven't laid off any firefighters, that's important.  When you look at the fact that we've been able to negotiate a contract that kept their benefits,  that we've been making their pension payments in full unlike other municipalities who have borrowed for that.”                     

For her part, Miner says she sees and talks to firefighters all the time, but says there are also rules about when and where she as mayor can communicate with union membership.