Owego firefighters: 'We may be down, but not out'

By Alicia Nieves

May 31, 2014 Updated May 31, 2014 at 7:52 PM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Walk-outs by volunteer firefighters in Owego have the community wondering what's next for the fire department.

Firefighters who plan to stay with the Owego Fire Department placed a message in front of the firehouse, Station No. 2.

The message read: "OFD still lives & proud of it!"

Firefighters said they may be down nearly 40 volunteer firefighters, but they are not out.

"The decision they made, I'm still trying to put that all together in my head," said Charles Olmstead, a volunteer firefighters that plans to stay.

New leadership in the department believes the departing firefighters are leaving because the Standards of Operating Guidelines (SOGs) were not passed by the new village board.

"They still hadn't gotten their feet on the ground and running with being a trustee, when they were handed this large document and told to vote it into place," said Daniel Gavin, another firefighter who will be staying with the department.

"I feel that was treating the trustees unfairly," Gavin added.

Gavin is in line to take over as fire chief for Owego after a board meeting in the village on Monday.

Gavin said the controversy over the SOGs started a few years ago and has brewed turmoil within the department ever since.

The situation got worse when Owego firefighter Matthew Porcari died in the line of duty January 2013.

The firefighter said things completely boiled over after the board's failure to pass the SOGs in April.

While the department is losing a significant number of their firefighters, firefighters said they have more than enough volunteers available to protect Owego.

"When the whistle blows, you will hear the trucks coming and we will provide the best service that we can," Gavin said.

According to Gavin, since the resignation announcement was made, Owego has not needed assistance from other departments on any of their calls.

However, if necessary, that is an option. Gavin stressed that is not something in place solely because the department lost a number of firefighters, but rather a standard operating practice.

The fire department also moved one of its trucks to Station No. 4 to allow that station to respond to fire calls. Previously, Station No. 4 did not have the equipment necessary to respond to a call.

Gavin believes this will provide even better coverage to the Village of Owego, from here on out.

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