Press-Republican

February 26, 2013

City still without permanent fire chief

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City Fire Department continues with an acting fire chief as the results of a test for a permanent chief continue to be challenged in court.

The job has been open since former Chief Paul Williams retired in May 2011.

Police Chief Desmond Racicot served as acting fire chief from that time until May 2012, and since then, Assistant Chief Randy Stone has held the position.

After Williams announced his retirement plans, City Councilor James Calnon, Williams and City Chamberlain Richard Marks worked with the Clinton County Personnel Department to expand the qualifications for the position.

Under those standards, two candidates from the City Fire Department didn’t qualify to take the test. 

TRAINING AT ISSUE

Plattsburgh Permanent Firefighters Association President Terry Feazelle said the city discriminated against firefighters throughout the state when it decided to no longer accept state training as a qualification for the position of chief.

“Every state has its own training, but they all have to meet national standards,” he said.

The federal training that would qualify, including through the National Fire Protection Association, was not offered to Plattsburgh firefighters at city expense.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak said they could have obtained the necessary training on their own.

“Why is it the responsibility of the City of Plattsburgh and its taxpayers to pay for training to make them eligible to become chief?” he said.

INJUNCTION

In all, 46 people applied to take the test in January 2012. The six who qualified included only one person from Clinton County.

The union filed suit in New York State Supreme Court in March 2012 to negate the results of that exam, alleging the requirements were discriminatory in not accepting state training as a qualification. 

The court issued an injunction on hiring a fire chief until the matter is resolved in court.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller held a hearing on the case on Jan. 28 of this year. He is expected to make a decision after attorneys for both sides file briefs, likely within the next few weeks.

The decision will either allow the test results to stand or require a new exam with a new list of qualified candidates.

The earliest date for a new test to be given would be in January 2014.

NEW TEST

Feazelle said that, after the injunction, the city offered to throw the test results out and administer another one that would be open to city firefighters also. 

He said the union would have accepted that, if the city had given the firefighters the raises and retroactive pay they were requesting. They have since been awarded that money through binding arbitration.

Kasprzak said that shows what is really important to the firefighters.

“Because of this, they have delayed any exam until at least January 2014, which was their intention all along, so that anyone outside the department would not be hired as chief,” the mayor said.

HIRING EYED

Kasprzak said he will be looking at all of the city’s options to hire a new provisional chief soon and would bring that appointment to the Common Council for approval.

That person would have to place in the top three of the next Civil Service test to be eligible for the permanent position.

“It is my responsibility to hire the most qualified people as department heads, whether they are from within that department or not.”

Email Dan Heath: heath@pressrepublican.com

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THE COST OF SAFETY