The City of Newburgh’s annual Memorial Day parade was held on Monday, but noticeably absent was the fire department which participated in previous years. Firefighters refused to march in the parade due to animosity with the city management and instead held private services.
According to the International Association of Firefighter Local 589, the union representing paid City of Newburgh firefighters, their membership unanimously decided not to participate in the parade. “The decision was not made lightly,” the union explained in a statement.
Local 589 attributed the decision to years of financial cuts to the City of Newburgh Fire Department, including a recent closure of one of three companies. “We could not stand behind a body of city government that proclaims public safety is their number one priority,” the union statement continued. “However, their actions and policy decisions show that the safety of the citizens is not their priority.”
For decades, the fire department operated a pumper and a ladder truck out of the Public Safety Building (PSB), as well as a second pumper out of a sub-station on Broadway in the West End. At one time, each of the three rigs were filled with a driver, a lieutenant, and four firefighters apiece. Over the years, staffing levels gradually diminished. In January, the City scaled back the staffing levels even further, causing the pumper in the PSB to sit empty.
Now, the fire department runs a ladder truck out of the PSB and a pumper in the West End. Between both rigs, there are only five interior firefighters to hook into a hydrant, go inside of the burning building, and conduct roof operations. This excludes the incident commander and the pump operators of both rigs, who must remain outside.
Earlier this year, City firefighters battled a second alarm structure fire. Local 589 alleged that a citizen had to intervene and assist a firefighter with opening a frozen hydrant because there were no other firefighters to help connect to an alternative hydrant.
Local 589 is now accusing the Newburgh City Council of “severely” damaging the fire department’s ability to protect the community, further adding to the hazards of their already dangerous job. “We only wish to have enough resources to do our job effectively,” Local 589 added.
The union concedes that although their members did not march, many of them stayed to watch the parade and cheer on the participants.
The firefighters did not let Memorial Day go unrecognized. As they do every year, firefighters gathered for a private ceremony at the Firefighters’ Memorial on Dubois Street to pay their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We love this City and we love protecting all who live here,” Local 589 concluded.