LETTER: The Fire Department Must Be Run As A Business
Reader believes a new contract must take into consideration the needs of firefighters and the town.
To the Editor:
Dear Fellow Residents, I would like to start this letter lending my support and gratitude to all of our Fire Fighters in Town.
My Dad’s Grandfather was a fire fighter and lost his life from actions taken in the line of duty. He was burned over most of his body, trying to save others, and after clinging to life for quite some time, we lost a true hero. His story is like so many others. The selfless acts that these true heroes make are not to be disqualified for any reason.
That being said, this Town has become sorely divided over the issue of more funds being utilized out of the Stabilization Fund to the 2014 Budget for the Fire Department. I have (as always) some thoughts on this…
- The current contract between the Fire Department and the Town was dated July of 2006 and expired in 2009. We have been working with the Fire Department for nearly 4 years without an updated contract. Not only is it out of date, but also needs to be re-explored to fit needs and financial constraints that this Town must now abide by.
- Under the current outdated contract, the Fire Dept. is nearly un-answerable to any other entity in Town.
- Under the current outdated contract, the Fire Chief can (and is essentially obligated to), at any time, shut down the South Street Station as a first resort.
- Under the current outdated contract, only the 16 Junior EMTs (out of the 50 active) are allowed to operate the ambulance.
- Under the current outdated contract, overtime pay is not only available, but due to restrictions listed above, as well as others, nearly guaranteed to all FF.
This Town undoubtedly needs a new contract that can not only fulfill the needs of the Fire Fighters, but just as importantly, fulfill the needs of our Town. Instead of working to negotiate a new contract, it was apparently decided that it would be wiser to aggravate the situation by publicly requesting the taxpayers help to remove over $400,000.00 out of our Stabilization Fund in order to attain their objective.
The problem that I have with this, is after researching it, this money is not to “keep South Street Station Open”, as the letter leads us to believe, it is to fund their “expected” overtime pay. The overtime pay is not an entitlement to Fire Fighters, it is only there to cover an absence of a fellow Fire Fighter. I state this due to reading the outdated contract that the Fire Fighters are working with at this time, as well as reading the Current Proposed Budget for 2014 for the Fire Department written by Chief Hazel.
The amount of overtime / coverage requested is $713,725.00. Chief Hazel explains (on page 3) that “The amount of shifts the South Station may be closed directly relates to the coverage funds that are allotted the Department and THE HISTORIC EXPECTATION OF MEMBER TIME OFF”…. Really? The Historic EXPECTATION of Member time off? Our Firefighters are expected to take time off during their scheduled shifts? I believe that the majority of this “expected time off” can be relieved by:
- Better scheduling (obviously)
- To do away with “Reward Days” (ie: if you show up for your scheduled shifts, you are entitled additional days off) ****(causing more costs in overtime / coverage)
- To have some type of discipline for “No call / No Show” … currently, there is no reaction to this action. ****(causing more costs in overtime / coverage)
- By following a different scheduling criteria for each Station (see below)
- By allowing all trained Fire Fighters to operate an Ambulance. (Although all active Fire Fighters are trained for EMT, the current contract forbids all but the 16 Junior Fire Fighters from operating the ambulance. All active Fire Fighters receive a pay stipend of 6% for being a trained EMT, however, again, only the 16 Junior Fire Fighters / EMTs are allowed to operate the ambulance (which receive a 7% pay stipend) ****(causing more costs in overtime / coverage)
- Removal of the obligation of the Chief to close South Street Fire Station as a first resort.
I believe that all 3 stations can run fully staffed without the need of additional monies from our Stabilization Account. By running with a minimum of 3 Fire Fighters For North and South Stations and a minimum of 5 Fire Fighters in Center, as well as the changes listed, our Town can have a full running Fire Department without the closure of a Station.
By looking at the outdated contract, the requested budget (2014), the recommended budget (2014) and the importance of not overspending at a time that we are over taxed and overburdened, but not under staffed as we are led to believe, I feel that some common sense can bring this issue some closure.
We must run all 3 fire stations as we would a business. We can no longer accept demands that we are unable to financially meet, and we must not allow the fire fighters union to dictate how things will be run while holding a threat of closing a station over our heads, when that is completely unnecessary. I feel confident that the changes listed above could reduce overtime / coverage by at least 50%.
Please, let there be no mistake of the selflessness of each Fire Fighter in every Department in this Country. They have chosen a career that will take them through the bowels of hell and raise them to a hero on any given day. However, they did choose this career.
As dangerous and unselfish as it is, please do not use this job as guilt to the taxpayers to cover your demands in negotiations. Please do not use the threat of closing a station in order to have the overtime pay you have come to expect.
Believe me, if this Town had the money, I would be the first one in line to suggest an across the board pay increase for Police, Fire and Teachers. But, we don’t.
Until that time comes, please, help us keep the safety of everyone in Town at the forefront. We need the Town leaders to step up for the safety of the residents & for the Firemen / women in Town to sit down with our leaders and put something together to keep all three stations open. This can be done.
With deepest sincerity to all of our Public Safety Workers,