The City of Newburgh is in poor financial shape. It has been this way for decades and is not likely to change soon. Recently, The Newburgh News reported on a story in which City of Newburgh paid firefighters refused to march in the Memorial Day parade in protest of yet another round of downsizing.
The Memorial Day parade was not the proper venue to protest their union’s complaints. The parade was intended to honor our fallen military members and should not have been politicized. The firefighters should have chose a different event to abstain from. However, the union certainly had a valid fight.
The issue at hand is the continuous downsizing of the City of Newburgh Fire Department (NFD). Two decades ago, they operated two engines and a ladder truck. Each of these rigs consisted of full crews, including a driver, lieutenant, and four firefighters. Over the years, the staffing levels of each apparatus declined. This year, one engine was completely taken out of service and the two remaining rigs now contain minimal manpower.
The NFD was smart in their plan to ease the burden for city residents. While it would have been easier to close their West End firehouse, which only consists of one engine, they chose to keep it open. Instead, they took the engine out of service at the Public Safety Building (PSB) downtown. This leaves one engine in the West End and one ladder truck at the PSB. Their last two remaining rigs are evenly distributed so at least one apparatus can reach an emergency scene in a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately, there will only be a few firefighters showing up to help.
Even with adequate staffing levels, City of Newburgh firefighters face countless challenges. Dozens of freight trains race through the city every day carrying multiple toxic and explosive chemicals. High-occupancy housing complexes mean firefighters must act quickly to evacuate occupants and knock down a fire before it spreads out of control. Dense housing, especially downtown, allows for fire to quickly spread to adjacent structures. With one crew inside fighting the fire and another conducting roof operations, nobody is left to enter adjoining buildings to prevent fire spread. Another challenge are the commercial properties, such as factories or warehouses, which often contain highly flammable chemicals or materials.
Two firetrucks combining to carry two lieutenants and five firefighters simply is not enough to protect a city full of so many hazards. The NFD is usually forced to rely on neighboring fire companies to come help them, but a city so populated and busy should be self-sufficient.
Yesterday, we reported on a fatal fire on Lander Street. Firefighters arrived to find a three-story row house fully engulfed in flames with multiple people trapped. Some victims jumped out of windows to flee the fire. The fire went to a third alarm, summonsing nearly a dozen other fire companies. If more City of Newburgh firefighters were there, they could have helped get victims out quicker while waiting for neighboring departments to arrive.
The Newburgh City Council has faced financial burdens for many decades, largely in part to a lack of residential tax revenue. The Council has applied for and won grant money for various projects, but that is typically for emergency repairs. If the general revenue is not coming in, they have no choice but to cut the budget somewhere. However, cutting back on fire and police protection should not be an option.
Consider the old meat and potatoes metaphor. The main function of any municipal government is to provide the core essential to residents: Public safety, drinking water, sewers, and roadways. These are the meat and potatoes. Anything else beyond that gravy. The fire department needs to be re-funded immediately. Unfortunately, more stringent cutbacks might need to be made elsewhere. Perhaps some beautification projects could be defunded since they are not as urgent as fire protection.
We urge the City Council to reassess where other cutbacks can be made and to provide adequate funding to the fire and police departments.