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Volunteer Fire Police Brigade proposed in City of Utica

By HILARY LANE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - With the recent steep cuts to the Utica Police and Fire Departments, officials are brainstorming on ways to help keep the city safe with less resources.

One proposal includes creating a volunteer Fire Police Brigade to help officials in emergency situations.

The idea is the brainchild of Utica Common Councilor At-Large Jim Zecca, who says the volunteers would not be fighting fires. However, they would take on other roles at the scene, such as blocking off intersections, crowd control and directing traffic.

As of now, paid police officers are doing these tasks and Zecca says this is taking valuable bodies away from more important work.

"We would leave our officers to do other work that is needed in the community, like fighting crime and taking care of other emergency situations," said Zecca.

According to Councilman Zecca, the volunteer Fire Police Brigade would save the city money by reducing the work load for police patrols and fire officials and cutting down on overtime costs, especially during the evening and early morning hours when the number of officers on the streets is limited.

"It would be asking the public to step up and help their city out," said Zecca. "It would be a good opportunity to do that. Even if we get a handful of folks to begin with, it would be a help. Every little bit will help out situation."

Zecca says there were a few retired volunteer firefighters at the Common Council meeting Monday who have already agreed to join the Fire Police Brigade if formed.

Under New York State law, a fire department does have the jurisdiction to create a Fire Police Brigade.

"I have had no experience in this area and I just wouldn't know were to begin developing a fire and police brigade," said Police Fire Chief Russell Brooks.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said the brigade might be helpful when it comes to blocking off intersections, but a full police presence would still be needed at fire scenes.

When NEWSChannel 2 asked about liability costs to the city for the volunteers, Zecca says he will be meeting with an attorney to discuss the issue. He also pointed to surrounding villages and towns such as Whitesboro and Ilion, who he says are already utilizing fire police efficiently and successfully.

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