The recent arbitration ruling in favor of the City of Plattsburgh regarding the Fire Department's staffing clause could prove to be pivotal in the history of the city.
The ruling basically said that the staffing clause in the fire union's contract is not viable due to the city's finances.
Although much would have to play out, the decision could ultimately lead to significant changes in the way fire protection services are delivered in the city.
The Fire Department has been a touchy subject in the city for decades.
It features a paid staff of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and officers, as well as a fleet of vehicles and equipment at two stations.
Firefighters work 24-hour shifts.
The total budget for the department, including overtime pay, is around $5.8 million per year, which some see as too high.
The high cost of the department has been debated for years, as councils have considered ways to reduce expenses without hurting services.
In the early 1990s, the Common Council debated the cost of the department regularly.
Known as the "Reform Council," they were elected in 1989 on the platform of fixing the city's finances, which saw major tax increases in the late 1980s.
The Fire Department was in the sights of then-Councilors Donald Kasprzak, Mark Dame and Gary Walker, the three Republicans on the council.
The Republican trio blamed the fire union's contract for many of the high costs, especially the staffing clause, which they felt tied their hands when it came to making cuts.
They had a lot of public support, but the union's contract was strong, and over the decades since then it has served them well until this recent decision, which was a surprise to many.
The idea of replacing the paid firefighters with volunteers while keeping paid ambulance staff, or some kind of mixed use with volunteers and paid firefighters, has been discussed from time to time, but it has never gained traction largely due to the staffing clause.
No doubt, the union will appeal this latest arbitration decision, and they could win.
But now, with the possibility of the staffing clause losing its teeth, the idea of switching to a hybrid department of some kind could perhaps be seriously looked into.
There are a multitude of factors to be considered with safety being the highest priority.
A thorough and comprehensive study would need to be done to see if a hybrid department could adequately cover the city.
Such studies, of course, cost money. The current council will have to carefully weigh that factor if they even want to consider the idea.
As we said, safety must continue to be the top priority.
Safety of the community and of the firefighters.
The paid firefighters do provide excellent service, but the reality is that there just are not that many structure fires in the city.
But if it happens to you or your business, then the $5.8 million per year is worth every penny, and rightfully so.
If an exploration into changing the department discovers that it could be too much of a risk, then the idea should not be pursued.
But with the city struggling to keep its finances balanced, the opportunity to at least look at cost-saving measures should be seriously considered.