LOCKPORT – The Lockport Common Council and Mayor Michael W. Tucker considered abolishing the job of Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite during budget deliberations, Tucker disclosed last week.
The Council backed away from the move, and that was the reason that nine Fire Department layoffs in the proposed 2014 budget were reduced to eight before Wednesday’s public hearing on the budget.
“We took the chief’s position out and then put it back in,” Tucker said.
Another move being considered in the wake of the layoffs, if the Council approves them this Wednesday, is to negotiate a scheduling change for the Fire Department. The roster would be divided into three platoons, and they would be assigned to rotating 24-hour shifts: one day on, two days off.
However, the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association has not agreed to the change, Alderman Patrick W. Schrader said.
At present, there are four platoons, and two work each day, one for 14 hours and the other for 10 hours.
If Passuite’s job had been done away with, Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert would have added the Fire Department to his responsibilities, under the new title of public safety director.
Eggert said he was willing to do it, but Alderman Patrick W. Schrader said the Council decided it would have been too much work for Eggert to handle.
However, he and Tucker said it’s possible the notion of a single public safety director could be revisited, perhaps after Passuite and Eggert have retired. Passuite said he might step down this year or next. Eggert said he intends to stay for a few more years.
“There were some inquiries if I was interested [in being public safety director], and I said I was,” Eggert said. “It would have been exciting, something new.”
He said his focus was trying to save jobs in his own department, where four layoffs are in the budget. However, Tucker has said he expects those positions to be restored.
Passuite said, “They would not be able to abolish my position. There’s the Civil Service Law, and the City Charter [protecting me].”
Passuite said he doesn’t think the one-boss format would work. “It would be mind-boggling to have one person in charge of each department, especially with all the changes that are going to come after the budget,” he said.
Eggert said he would have delegated a lot of duties to assistant chiefs and captains. “It depends how you divvy up the workload,” he said. “A lot of small cities that are strapped for money are looking for ways to save.”
Passuite said he doesn’t mind the proposed switch to 24-hour firefighter shifts. He said the men could get some sleep if things were quiet.
The schedule change “would reduce overtime substantially,” Passuite said.
The union contracts calls for minimum staffing of nine firefighters per shift. Under the four-platoon system, there are three groups of 11 men and one of 12. If too many men are on vacation or otherwise absent, firemen from other platoons are called in to reach the nine-man minimum, and the fill-ins are paid time-and-a-half for the entire shift.
With three platoons of 12, Passuite figures the overtime risk would be less.