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Evolution of the Johnson City Fire Service


             In 1966 the fire service in Johnson City consisted of a 64 man fire department.  The JCFD manned three stations, Central Station was located in center of the Village, Station 2 was located on the north side of the Village and Station 3 was located on the south side of the Village.  During this time the three stations responded to all fire calls with at least three engine companies and one truck company.


            This department was augmented by the Endicott Johnson Fire Prevention which was approximately 40 men.  The EJ station was also located in the center of the Village.  This station would respond with two engine companies to all first alarms at all churches, schools, factories, the hospital, and all working structured fires. 


            The total fire service initial response in Johnson City to all reported fires and alarms in high occupancy areas was a minimum of five engine companies one truck company and three chief officers for a total of 25 men.


             The sole role of theses departments in the village was fire suppression.  These departments responded to an average of 300 calls per year.  At this time the village had a population of approximately 15,500, and a daytime population approximately 40,000.  During this time the village consisted of a large manufacturing base, a modest sized hospital, and a small retail area on Main Street.  The Village contained two parochial schools five elementary schools a junior high school and a high school.  All of the schools in the village were centrally located.  Routes 17 and 201 did not exist at this time and there was very little development north and west of Calvary Cemetery.


            During the next twenty years (1966-1986) the fire service and the Village experienced many changes The Endicott Johnson Fire Prevention ceased operation. The fire department was reduced by 19 men to a 45 man department. Central station was closed, and a first alarm response was reduced to two engine companies and one truck company and a chief for a total of nine men. 


             The Village went from being a manufacturing town to the retail center of the Southern Tier. Three of the five elementary schools were closed.  Routes 17 and 201 were opened, and the hospital grew from a modest hospital to the largest in the area. Major development of the Villages northern and western areas boomed. Two large housing complexes were built (Mountain Shadows and Indian Ridge) and two nursing homes were also established during this time.


            Throughout this time the role of the fire service changed very little. The fire department was responsible for code enforcement and building inspections. The fire department did begin a fledgling fire prevention program. However the primary function of the fire department remained the same, fire suppression.  In 1986 the fire department responded to 498 alarms.


            From 1986 to today many changes have again come to the fire service and the Village.


            The Village’s development continues to grow.  The population covered by the fire department is approximately 20,000 people with a day time population of approximately 40,000 to 50,000 people.  The hospital and surrounding area now encompasses three blocks and is continuing to expand.  The retail development in the Village is experiencing a resurgence with more development planned. The schools now only number two, however they are densely populated campuses that are located in the northern area of the Village. Two of the former schools being use as senior housing with the third being used as a school.  Residential development has also grown at a swift rate with the Carpathian Hill development, Tokos Grove, and the Highlands, to name a few. And development of these areas is continuing.  The original site plan for Carpathian Hills calls for a third fire station to be placed in service when that area reaches a certain percentage of development.  If the criteria for a third station have not been met it must be coming close.


            Over the last 23 years the fire department has expanded the services that it provides. The fire service’s motto is now one call does it all. 


            The fledgling fire prevention program has grown into one of the most comprehensive programs in Broome County.  We are the only fire department in the county that offers Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention Program.  This program provides needed education to youths that have a fire play problem.  The Sesame Street and fire house puppets provide fire prevention education to 5,000 children and 3,000 adults each year.  The building inspection program has also grown to be the best in the area, and is used as a model for other fire departments.


            The fire service is now responsible for first response emergency medical service (EMS) to the Village.  Fire based EMS has become the most effective way to treat people with medical emergencies.  With response time that averages three minutes patient care and stabilization often occurs prior to the arrival of UVES.  This valuable service was started voluntarily by the men of the fire department in 1996.


            Another service provided by the fire department is booming of the river.  The Village has contracted with the oil companies to provide containment of a spill within one hour of the spill occurring.  The oil companies have provided a boat to the fire department, with further compensation to the Village to take place in the future.  The other benefit of the Air Boat is that the fire department is now certified in swift water rescue.


            As of 2007 the fire department has been certified in confined space rescue.  This labor/manpower intensive service demands a great deal of training to stay proficient.  This service was being provided to BAE and AES by the Binghamton and Endicott fire departments.  These departments are collecting a fee for this service.  Now that the Johnson City fire department is confined space certified additional revenue is now generated for providing this service.


            All of these additional services that are now provided by the fire department have been implemented without any additional personnel. Furthermore these new programs have been implemented at little or no cost to the Village.  The EMS program was started voluntarily by the men of the fire department, and the other programs equipment and training were funded by grants from FEMA, and donations.


            The fire service of today has evolved into a multi faceted operation requiring added training, which is being done with less people. There were 25 of fire fighters per shift responding to 300 alarms in 1966.  Remember that in 1966 the fire department was only responding to fire calls and its primary responsibility was fire suppression.  In 2006 the fire department responded to 2385 alarms with a minimum of EIGHT men per shift.  These call were not all fire alarms but EMS calls and other emergencies i.e. river rescues, MVAs.  Again we are doing more with less.   


             When these programs were started each group had a minimum shift strength of eight men.  This eight man minimum was put into effect so that we can provide all of the service that the Village residents have come to rely on. 


            The eight man minimum gives the fire department the flexibility to respond to multiple med calls while remaining in service to respond to fire alarms.  Without this minimum we will lose our ability to provide this service as it is in place now, without compromising the safety of the men of the fire department.


             Eight men are needed to respond with the boat and trailers to boom the river.  The EPA was so impressed with the tactics the fire department used in the mock spills that we were invited to speak at their seminar.  Without eight men we may not be able to boom the river proficiently with in the one hour required by the EPA.  The oil companies do compensate the Village for this service and if we cannot provide this service we may lose this revenue.


            As stated earlier the confined space rescue is a manpower intensive service.  Unfortunately we cannot fully provide this service with only eight men.  However we can perform an accurate size up and begin to set up operations while we are waiting for additional personnel to arrive.  This service is a revenue generating service that has great potential.


            Requirements by OSHA also dictate how we perform certain tasks.  The eight man minimum is in place to insure that the fire department meets the Two in Two out standard.  Where will the liability fall if we are unable as a fire department to meet this standard?


            When fewer men are performing the same tasks fatigue becomes a factor. What benefit is it to the Village if firefighters become injured and are unable to work.  Is the Village going to accept the risk of a potentially higher injury rate? 


            The eight man minimum was not a number that was picked out of the air.  It is a number that has been carefully determined to operate all of the services that the fire department now provides.  It is a number that will allow the fire department to function safely for the residents of the Village and for the men of the department.


            What will the saving to the average taxpayer be if this minimum is cut?  Right now the average taxpayer spends more on their cable bill than they do to have a minimum of eight firefighters working 24 hours a day  7 days a week 365 days a year.  That is quite a bargain for all of the services provided by one of the most dangerous professions in the world!    


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