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Code 4 Now Standard Operating Procedure for GCFD

Garden City's fire department will begin operating under Code 4 effective Monday.
Garden City's fire department will begin operating under Code 4 effective Monday.
In order to address manning and overtime expenses within the Garden City Fire Department, village finance commissioner and trustee Andrew Cavanaugh made a motion at Thursday's board meeting, which trustees unanimously approved, to direct Chief Charles Cavarra to implement Code 4 as "standard operating procedure."

This officially goes into effect Monday.

Code 4 was first implemented in February 2010. If a firefighter calls in sick or takes vacation, that member is not replaced with overtime. This left the department staffed with two firefighters at Station No. 2, two at Station No. 3 and one at headquarters, as well as a lieutenant. (The former staffing level per shift was six firefighters and one lieutenant.)

The formal budget had $0 for overtime. To date approximately $94,000 has been moved from other fire department expense lines to cover overtime incurred to date. "There is little or no room for further transfers of that nature, which caused us to act re Code 4," Cavanaugh told Patch Thursday via email.

According to the treasurer's report ending Sept. 30, the department used $79,234 worth of overtime between June 1 and Sept. 30, the first quarter of the village's fiscal year. The report states the department has used 99.94 percent of its overtime budget.

"I think it's incumbent of this board to recognize the somewhat emergency nature of those expenditures and therefore make a formal direction to Chief Cavarra ... to establish a permanent code 4 situation," Cavanaugh said.

"We've exhausted all the current overtime allocated in the current budget," mayor Don Brudie said, noting that deputy mayor John Watras, the village's current fire commissioner, brought this to the board's attention. "It's a very necessary act that we have to take."

Watras added, "We are very determined to look at overtime. We've been doing that on a regular basis ... so members of this board are all over this in terms of fire, police whatever the area is."

According to Lt. Peter Clancy, president of Local 1588, which represents Garden City’s professional firefighters, "As we have stated before, implementation of Code 4 reduces staffing and changes response of apparatus, jeopardizing the safety of the residents of Garden City and all members of the fire department."

Cavanaugh acknowledged that the ICMA report analyzing the department's operations provided several variations on alternative manning structures. "Options are still under consideration by the chiefs, who will come to the board with a full proposal in due course," he said. "In the interim we do want to establish this item at first moment."

The report recommends, among other things, hiring a captain, a position that's been vacant since Aug. 31, 2010 when the village denied renewal of Gil Frank's pension waiver.

Critics contend that much of the overtime costs are due to the village's decision to not fill vacant positions.

Cavanaugh says another level of paid supervision like hiring someone to fill the captain's position would have no effect on overtime costs. "We are confident that the department is ably led by the Chiefs and the paid Lieutenants," he said.

Leo Stimmler said he was shocked to learn the department exhausted its overtime funds in just three months while other departments, according to trustee reports, are "online and within budget."

"I hope this isn't a reaction of the paid firefighters to the ICMA report," he said. "I hope this isn't a job action."

EPOA president Judy Courtney asked what the implications, if any, are. "Your case for the change is that the need for more overtime is because of staffing problems related to disability," she said.

There are currently five career firefighters out on sick leave, according to Chief Cavarra. Coupling this with vacations, he said there were no rotators to cover shifts.

"Reducing from six to five gives us the ability to have three rotators to cover vacations," Cavarra said.

Cavanaugh assured residents that, in consult with Watras, the board has taken notice of all the implications of the move, including "response time, capability and effectiveness of the fire service overall."

"We are confident that establishing this as standard operating procedure will have no detrimental effects on village standards nor any detrimental effect or danger to residents of the community," he said. "Sometimes you have to do what your revenue and expenses tell you to do."

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