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Village Board Meeting 8/19/14

Below is the transcript of the address given to the Village Board by Local 921 President Bob Blakeslee at the August 19, 2014 JC Board Meeting:  


Dear Mayor and Trustees


It is my honor to stand up here, on behalf of the membership of the Johnson City Firefighters Association.  I am addressing you tonight to express my immeasurable gratitude for the actions and decisions that you have made in recent years.

Since July of 2012, it has been a great honor and pleasure to represent this extraordinary group of individuals.  I am their spokesman, nothing more than a part in an intricate machine, designed over 100 years ago, by people much smarter than myself.

I am fortunate because I’m able to associate with such and amazing group of people.  People who have kept their heads up, despite the better part of a decade, being scapegoated because of people who were, for lack of a better term, unable to perform the task for which they’d been elected.  People who sought to destroy the very services for which an immeasurable amount of people will clearly tell you, enable to them to continue to walk the earth today, and continue to spend time with their loved ones.  My brothers, who despite only a few short years ago, being portrayed as liars, thieves, and villains in the media, kept going to work, continuing to learn and perfect their craft, and being able to show up and bring order to a chaotic event, and doing what we’re supposed to do, save people’s lives.  For that, I am proud.

I am speaking to you tonight, so that the people we both serve, may have a better understanding and realization of just how bad things had become, and the positive changes brought about by you, this village board, that directly contributed to what may quite have possibly been, this Village’s finest hour.  I am here to offer my thank you for your ongoing commitment to public safety, here in the Village of Johnson City.

We are not but only a few short years removed, from Village leadership with a quite different outlook on public safety.  Thankfully, as opposed to many changes fire protection nationwide, it did not take any major losses of life for you, the board, to usher in reform.

I cannot speak highly enough of your decision to re-open the Southside station on Floral Ave.  Because of your foresight, last Wednesday morning, when our residents faced the choice of hanging out of their windows, as their only escape from a building who’s hallway had reached temperatures of over 1200 degrees, they were met by firefighters responding from only blocks away, there to rescue them from their second floor apartments.

As was told to me by a member of our police force, on scene at this fire, “we don’t carry ladders, any delay of FD personnel surely would have impacted the survival rate.”

You have accepted the SAFER grant, putting more firefighters on our streets, some of those very individuals went apartment to apartment, searching for victims.

It has only been a couple of years since an outgoing trustee, sitting in those very seats in which you sit tonight, gave a farewell address after being voted out of office after only a single, yet quite tumultuous term.  Touting the abolition of six firefighter positions as a money saving accomplishment, this same administration later refused a federal grant which would have put six firefighters back on the job, protecting lives and property, at NO cost to residents and taxpayers!  It was plainly stated, not implied, that our moral compass points in the wrong direction.  It was stated that we were thugs and goons.

Through all this, the members of the Johnson City Fire Department have continued to serve our community, to train, and to carry on a daily workload that was once handled by almost twice the number of members.  Which brings me to only last week.  Despite the many negatives stated about public safety, the rescue of no fewer than eight people from a burning apartment complex stands as the best possible example of why we have full time fire and police protection here in Johnson City.

Our jobs as trustees and public servants, is to put personal agendas aside and to serve those who trust us to do so.

Thank you for trusting those under your command to best know their jobs, and work with fire department leadership to find ways or providing efficient coverage.  We have worked hand in hand, to best serve our community.  Unfortunately mayor, we both took office with the daunting task of overcoming almost irreparable damage.  The fire department was so decimated that not only did our one of a kind fire prevention programs nearly cease to exist, we were left so poorly staffed that a good number of medical emergencies were unable to be responded to, often leaving residents and taxpayers to wait long times for help to arrive.

Thankfully, we have moved on from an administration who may have forgotten that the fire department is a part of a village, and not an enemy entity, to one that actively works with fire department leadership to seek out grants to put more firefighters on our streets, and give us the best possible equipment with which to do our jobs. 

As this outgoing trustee put it, governing is not an easy task.  The responsibility is great and affecting change is not easy.  However, it is working hand in hand with village and department leaders, we have been able to continue to give fire protection to our residents, all the while, keeping an eye on the bottom line.  We are able to boast a lower personnel budget amount in the fire department, since 2008.  Not many can say the same.

We cannot control or dwell on the past, but it is imperative to remember it, and learn from it, so as to keep moving forward, and not repeat it.

For too long, dangerous and some would say irresponsible cuts to public safety were made here in Johnson City, all done under the guise of “looking out for the taxpayer.”  Well, mayor and trustees, I can say to you, that you have truly done just as you were elected to do, and that is to look out for the taxpayer.  For you, you can sleep well at night, knowing that when you say you are looking out for our residents, that it is not simply a catchphrase.  There are countless residents from 85 Floral Ave who now know firsthand what it means to live in a village who’s government truly does look out for its population.  For this, I, and countless individuals who depend on you, offer our sincerest of gratitude.


Robert Blakeslee

President, IAFF Local 921


Johnson City Firefighters Association


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