WILKES-BARRE — Community fire watches will continue, Mayor Tony George said Thursday, adding they’re worth the price of the extra fuel for the vehicles patrolling the city.
George maintained the watches he stepped up in mid-August as a public safety measure are a good use of the department’s resources, even though the firefighters’ union has criticized them as wasteful for a city that is struggling financially.
“I’m not stopping,” George said, adding the watches aren’t as big a financial burden as the firefighters’ wages and benefits.
Their average compensation — including pay, health insurance and pension contributions — is $109,354 a year, the mayor said.
He raised the point about compensation in response to a story published Wednesday in the Times Leader that listed firefighters’ base wages in his budget for this year.
The wages, based on time of service:
• Firefighter A: $64,810.
• Firefighter B: $58,810.
• Firefighter C: $51,847.
“The cost (of the watches) is minimal compared to their salaries,” George said.
The firefighters drive the vehicles only a couple miles on the patrols or park them in a highly visible location. “I don’t think its burning that much gas,” noted the mayor.
Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters has kept track of the fuel usage before and during the watches and also documented when a vehicle goes out of service, reportedly due to breakdowns caused by overuse on the patrols.
Mike Bilski, president of the Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department Local 104, said Engine 2 used approximately 118 gallons of diesel fuel from Aug. 3 -15 and nearly 301 gallons from Aug. 16 to Sept. 1.
Engines 1 and 2 are in the shop for repairs and in their places reserve apparatus has been activated. Aerial ladder Truck 6 has been in and out of service for repairs too.
“Our biggest concern is we’re not going to have anything left soon,” said Bilski.
The mayor said the department has 22 vehicles in its fleet. “We’re not going to be out of vehicles,” he said. Those that are taken out of service go in for repairs at either the Department of Public Works garage or to a private garage.
As a backup, the city has mutual aid agreements with fire and ambulance departments in surrounding municipalities to respond to emergencies.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.