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New Fire Department complement approved, 20 firefighters set to retire

By LEXIE O'CONNOR

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica's common council voted 8 to 1 Thursday, approving a new complement for the city's fire department. While the overall complement stays at 123 positions, the make up of it is now changed.

The Chief Fire Marshal position is now restored, two Deputy Fire Chief positions are restored bringing the total number of Deputy Chiefs to four, and 4 Captain positions are restored bringing the total number of captains to seven. The new complement also brings a cut of two Fire Lieutenants and five Firefighters.

The changes are based on a deal reached between the Fire Union President Robert Wenner and Mayor Palmieri last week which also included a $15,000 retirement incentive.

Utica Fire Chief Russell Brooks says he now has twenty members of the department retiring.

"I just had over 20% of our higher, our most senior guys, our highest ranking firefighters notify me in writing that they are retiring immediately," says Chief Brooks.

One of the retirees is Assistant Fire Chief Andre Esposito, who has been with the department for 24 years.

"The city going through the cuts to public safety, just something I don't want to be a part of and it was worth it to me to be able to save someone else's job," says Esposito. "For me to go now, I've got other things I can do. A young guy that just started his career, I'd rather have him stay."

While the retirements did allow jobs to be saved, it does leave Chief Brooks with a changed team.

"You know (they're) people I rely on to assist me in forming this new structure so there are some challenges ahead of us," says Chief Brooks. "I have some very good people filling some of these slots but there's a learning curve."

Chief Brooks says he worries about putting less men on the fire ground without some of the most experienced officers and firefighters beside them - concerns Esposito shares.

"I'm concerned about the loss of the seniority. That always is an issue. We're losing a lot of people, a lot of experience and it's going to take some time to recover from that," says Esposito.

To make up for the fewer members, Chief Brooks has already been forced to make changes, taking one water pumper out of South Utica Wednesday. He is still unsure which, if any, fire houses will close. Chief Brooks says just like the complement, that also is in the common council's hands.

Even with the many changes the fire department will now see, Chief Brooks says the new complement is a step in the right direction, allowing him to provide the best fire protection to the city with the diminished resources he has.

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