Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki unveiled a revised city budget proposal Monday – including more money for the city’s fire department.
The city still plans to eliminate 16 vacant firefighter positions – but will also invest in training a new academy of firefighters.
That training would last 14 weeks, and cost $386,000. Purzycki also wants to spend $30,000 on rebooting a Fire Explorers Program to educate young city residents about firefighting as a career – and another $70,000 on equipment.
City Councilman Bob Williams applauds investing in future generations of firefighters, but is not completely on board with this plan.
“I still don’t believe that it’s the proper move," Williams said. "I don’t believe cutting 16 firefighters is the answer. If you want to eliminate 8 firefighters this cycle, and then go after another 8 fighters the next cycle – once you’ve shown me data that says it didn’t change the safety or complexity of what we’re dealing with, I’d be in favor down the road. But to eliminate 16 right off the top with no true data to back up how this gonna impact us, I think it’s a dangerous maneuver.”
After the 16 vacant positions are eliminated, seven would remain. Another five would be added to reach the required eleven needed for a new academy class.
But Williams says at the rate city firefighters are nearing retirement, attrition will still leave the department thin and the city paying for it.
“You can’t under-staff your department and then complain about overtime," he said.
He adds the overtime costs associated with academy training could also be reduced significantly by utilizing other training resources in the state.
The cuts will also necessitate the return of rolling bypass – but Purzycki is proposing 3-3-3 rotating schedule, which hasn’t been used in years.
Using that schedule, 47 firefighters would be working on any given shift – meeting the National Fire Protection Association staffing recommendations of at least 43 firefighters.
Purzycki wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday. Council will vote on the budget changes Thursday.