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Syracuse police, fire departments struggle with labor, equipment shortages

Syracuse Fire Department
Syracuse takes delivery of a new fire engine in early December 2022. The rigs take two years or more to build.

Leaders with Syracuse’s police and fire departments say they’re doing all they can to serve residents despite ongoing labor and equipment shortages.  Funding doesn't seem to be the issue. In fact, the Walsh Administration and common councilors have been more than willing to approve spending requests for police and fire during budget time and throughout the year.

For the police department, it’s been a struggle to recruit and retain officers. First Deputy Chief Richard Shoff told councilors last week they’re still struggling to get by with about 380 officers, when 425 would be barely adequate.

"The problem is not enough people want to be police officers, going back as recently as 4 or 5 years ago," Shoff said. The problem was how fast can we put them through. We don't have that problem anymore."

"And, if we put them through, then someone else is going to steal them anyway," council president Helen Hudson chimed in.

"Hopefully not," Shoff said.

"Well, we know how that works," Hudson said. "Here come the state troopers and the county."

Shoff says 10 cadets are in training and they’re recruiting for a second class. He says a class of just five officers will graduate and enter the force on Friday.

On the fire side, Chief Michael Monds told councilors they need an additional ambulance.

"This will be the third one. We started running our ambulance 24/7 on January 2. We need to get more ambulances in service just for when we do preventative maintenance, we need a back up."

Monds says they’re “running the wheels” off their current rigs. The fire department started an ambulance service a couple years ago to fill gaps for private services that were…and continue to be stretched thin due to the pandemic. Monds says now his crews are seeing high demand.

"The metrics we use show 45 percent is a high utilization rate. Some of our shifts this week have been up to 86 percent," Monds said. "We're going to figure this out over the next week or two, collect some data, figure out what's next with our operation. We're meeting that right now, but the way it is, we have to figure out how to sustain it."

Monds says they’ll have a plan in a few weeks. Meanwhile, councilors today are expected to approve more than $2.8 million in fire department vehicle purchases, including $350,000 for an ambulance and $1.3 million for a fire engine.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at