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Firefighters asked to forgo dress uniform

Saint John councillors are cutting $63,000 from the city's fire department by asking its firefighters to do without new dress uniforms for the next year.

Saint John city councillors are cutting $63,000 from the city's fire department by asking its firefighters to do without new dress uniforms for the next year.

Saint John is among a long list of governments that are facing a cash crunch. The city has already asked its union to take wage freezes and reductions in their benefits.

The fire department is the largest single expense in the city's operating budget and it became the target of financial belt-tightening at Monday night's council meeting.

'It's our largest expense in our operating budget. We need to address the affordability of that while maintaining the operational effectiveness of that department.'— Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase

Saint John councillors voted to ask firefighters to voluntarily put off getting new dress uniforms, which they get every five years as part of their union contract.

"If the firefighters would consider that request, just given the current financial situation," said Coun. Mel Norton.

In previous attempts by council to cut the department firefighters warned safety would be compromised and homeowners insurance rates would go up.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase has long argued the $20-million fire department budget should be cut. 

"It's our largest expense in our operating budget. We need to address the affordability of that while maintaining the operational effectiveness of that department," Chase said.

And with the recent departure of Rob Simonds, the city's popular former fire chief, may have opened up the opportunity to make some changes.

Coun. Chris Titus proposed the city look at all the options during a council meeting on Monday.

"To review the complete fire service and see if we can do it in a more efficient fashion," Titus said.

Those changes, Titus said, could include a volunteer component to the department and administrative changes.

Councillors asked Pat Woods, the city manager, to review the fire department and report back with options for cost savings or efficiencies.

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