In the days following the terrible fire that destroyed Nolan’s on Canandaigua Lake, I have seen the public conversation shift away from initial sadness for the loss of a beloved community gathering place and concern for the business’s owners and employees to tilting headlong into full-throated condemnation of city government and its perceived failure to prioritize the safety of our community and the firefighting professionals serving it.  There are a number of parties out in front of this debate:

  • Two former fire chiefs accusing city government of either apathy (at best) or reckless indifference to the safety of our community (at worst).
  • The city’s Republicans characterizing the fire response as a symbol of a Democratic-controlled city government’s incompetence.
  • Area residents expressing valid concerns about the safety of their families and their property.

Most of these voices have coalesced around this conclusion: that Canandaigua would be safer if it had more career firefighters and that City Council is obstinately refusing to fund it, even though it really wouldn’t cost taxpayers that much.  That’s the hasty conclusion and blame assignment currently percolating across social media, so grab the tar and feathers and go get ‘em!

But there’s an entirely different conclusion that I’ve reached and it’s this:  I don’t have enough information to jump to a conclusion – all I have right now are more questions:

  • What exactly are the national standards for a community of our size?
  • Other communities depend entirely on volunteer departments, so what does the data say about the efficacy of departments like those?
  • Are there opportunities to share more services with other local municipalities?
  • If data support the staffing increased to the levels being discussed, what is the accompanying price tag and impact to property taxes?
  • If additional staffing is possible, what can the firefighters union do to keep salaries and benefits affordable for the city?
  • What’s the opportunity cost, i.e., the future initiatives that can’t be enacted because resources are going to increased fire department staffing?
  • What services/amenities will we lose if the tax base can’t cover increased staffing?
  • What do our property owners think is a reasonable increase in taxes to cover increased staffing?

And the questions go on and on, but that’s only appropriate, because the best approach in collaborative and transparent government is one in which questions, respectful inquiry and thoughtful deliberation lead to decision making.

Of course, I appreciate that safety issues by their very nature are urgent, but we must recognize that some of that urgency is driven by our human nature to “what if” this problem: what if there were more firefighters, couldn’t the building have been saved?  What if people were trapped in the building and help didn’t arrive in time to get them out?   But there aren’t enough resources in the world to answer every “what if” possible.  And, one such scenario has occurred and thankfully did end well: the March 2017 house fire on Scotland Road from which three people were successfully rescued by the Canandaigua Fire Department under the leadership of acting Chief Ben Cramer and with the assistance of other area departments.

Of course, part of the reason none of us have more context about this debate is because there is a voice missing, and that’s the voice of City Council itself.  I hope that our leaders will respond and respond soon with answers to some of these questions and with some historical context that illustrates the reasoning behind the decisions leading to our current state of affairs.  Until I hear more of the facts around this issue, I have to reserve judgement.  And that’s an important thing to know about me: if I am elected to represent Ward 4 on City Council, every vote I cast will based on careful consideration of the facts weighed against the best interests of our residents, and informed by the opinions of as wide a cross-section of my constituents as I can obtain.  We are not always going to agree, but you will always know that even a vote you didn’t agree with was cast thoughtfully.

Start a conversation with me, and let me know what you think by adding a comment below.

 

8 thoughts on “I have jumped to a conclusion ….

  1. Ms. Sutton:

    I appreciate your desire for factual information upon which to draw your conclusions, and if elected, make your decisions.

    In regard to the March 2017 fire on Scotland Road, I suggest that you obtain the written report and video synopsis prepared by Acting Chief Cramer. Yes, the outcome of that fire ended well in that none of the occupants were killed. Chief Cramer’s efforts to document the impact of the understaffed response to that fire will provide you with the rest of the facts you should know.

    As for my public comments on the Nolan’s fire, if you look closely, you will find that I have in no way attributed the problem to the City Council. As Fire Chief, my concerns and recommendations went to the City Manager and City Hall staff, who in turn decided what information they would pass along to City Council. That is how the Council-Manager form of government is designed to work.

    I am willing to meet with you in your position as a candidate for City Council, and answer all of the questions you have posed in this post and provide you with the applicable reference documents.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Marentette

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    1. Mr. Anthony:

      Thank you for your interest.

      The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which establishes recognized fire service standards, states that communities with a population greater than 1,000 per square mile, and which rely on volunteer or a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters, shall assemble at least 15 firefighters on the scene within nine minutes of the initial alarm for a building fire.

      The 15 firefighters can include mutual aid from neighboring fire departments.

      Canandaigua has a population of 2,297 per square mile.

      Nine minutes after the initial alarm for the Nolan’s fire, there were six firefighters on the scene – two on-duty paid firefighters and four volunteers. Three of the volunteers’ qualifications limit them to support roles outside of a burning building. This was nine personnel less than the NFPA requirement.

      The NFPA states that communities with paid firefighters on duty shall deploy at least four of the 15 required firefighters within five and a half minutes of receiving the initial alarm. The four firefighters must be qualified for interior firefighting to meet the OSHA “two-in/two” requirement for entry into a burning building.

      The Fire Department can meet the NFPA response time standard for the first-arriving crew throughout the City by having two paid firefighters on duty in each of its two fire stations.

      The Fire Department can strive to meet the NFPA requirement to have a combination of 15 paid and volunteer firefighters on scene in nine minutes by continuing to recruit and train qualified volunteers, and by continuing to utilize neighboring fire departments on mutual aid.

      That said, it is imperative to keep in mind that when the City cut nine paid positions in 2009 and 2010, it lost on-duty staffing as well as the off-duty response of career firefighters who lived in the City and Town.

      Sincerely,
      Mark Marentette

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  2. If you’re running for council, ,you should know this info, and you should be providing the answers. It’s not hard to find. Look up SAFER grant programs, and IAFF’S report on municipal fire protection standards. Good luck. If you have any questions, holler.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment. I, like you, want my leaders to have answers and solutions. But I also wouldn’t trust anyone who came out of nowhere and has never held public office spouting off that she had all the answers. So I’m walking a fine line here, right? I appreciate the leads on the grant programs and IAFF report, and I hope you’ll continue to stay engaged with my candidacy and tell me what you think.

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  4. I don’t live in the Canandaigua voting area, I live outside it, but work in the town. I saw the fire. Knowing that it was seen at 5:30 A.M. and not before was to tell me that the fire had been going at least shortly after the business closed for the nite. Since living/working in the area for the past 9 years (living) and 5 years (working), I have found out that many of the residents (snow birds and the 1%’s) expect that everyone should kiss their behinds and do what they want. I saw many fire departments (this was NOT a 1 town fire department fire–lived in Roch. and saw many that were multiple departments) participating in trying to put the fire out and be safe too. This was almost 2 hours after the fire was “noticed and called in”. What do these residents (mostly 1%ers and snow birds again!) want anyone to do? Are they willing to volunteer for the department, are they willing to get off their proverbial behinds and get out and be seen doing something to help get this done? Will they be willing to pay more taxes to have more firefighters, more trucks, more department locations because they think that if they want it it will happen? NO! Do your best to find solutions to answer your questions and put those answers out publicly. Go and make the town answer those questions, find out how much it would cost the townspeople and then put that out there too (with the costs of adding trucks, firefighters, new buildings) so that they are fully aware of the tax % increase these things will bring. People can really be so locked into their own concerns, they forget there are others around that need assistance too.

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