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Firefighters union & city of Syracuse disagree over several issues

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse Fire Chief Paul Linnertz and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Tensions between union leadership in the Syracuse Fire Department and Mayor Stephanie Miner’s administration have reached a boiling point.

The two sides faced off at a news conference by Mayor Stephanie Miner touting the latest insurance industry score that measures fire department operations.

“Last week, the ISO issued the highest rating for the city of Syracuse Fire Department and one of the highest scores in New York state,” Miner said.

Beyond the line of cameras and reporters, stood dozens of firefighters from all over New York state -- members of the New York State Professional Firefighters Association, who happened to be meeting in Syracuse. And who in a vote Tuesday, they censured Syracuse Fire Chief Paul Linnertz, accusing him of “conduct detrimental to the department and public safety.” 

Paul Motondo, president of Local 280, the union that represents Syracuse firefighters, says it's the culmination of years of disputes with Linnertz over things like the realignment of department services, to pensions and disability claims. He says department morale has plunged, which he says ultimately puts citizens in danger.

"Our occupation is a brotherhood. It’s a brotherhood and a family. When you disrupt the brotherhood and the family and we’ve got a job that has a need for teamwork, that puts safety at risk,” Motondo said.

Linnertz’s reaction: most of the people staring down city officials were outsiders.

“So to be censured by this organization doesn’t impact me. They’re not from Syracuse. They’ve heard one side of the story, they haven’t heard both sides of the story, which is almost always the case,” Linnertz said.

Both Linnertz and Miner contend that morale isn’t a problem, pointing to recent statistics regarding response times and discussions they say they’ve had with firefighters.

Going forward, Motondo says the issue boils down to communication.

"Out of this censure, I hope what gets accomplished. I hope a positive dialogue. I hope communication takes place.”

Miner says funding the second largest department in the city budget is a struggle in a city that could run out of money in three years, so difficult decisions have to be made.

"I don’t think there is a communication problem. I think when we communicate, they don’t like the information that we give them.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.