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Thread: Staff-cut deal takes heat off firehouses

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    Staff-cut deal takes heat off firehouses

    Staff-cut deal takes heat off firehouses


    Blaze engulfs a bed and ceiling as probationary firefighters get a taste of a new $45 million training facility yesterday at the Fire Academy on Randalls Island.

    The Fire Department will slash staffing at 23 engine companies - but spare another 29 targeted companies from the same cut, according to a deal announced yesterday.
    The city had sought to take one firefighter from each of 52 companies, turning them into four-firefighter units.

    Yesterday's agreement between Mayor Bloomberg and the Uniformed Firefighters Association will cut the number of five-person engine companies to 40, down from 63.

    The staffing reductions are effective immediately. A Fire Department official said it will take "a couple of days to do the logistics."

    In return for the city's sparing 29 companies, the union agreed to drop seven legal challenges, including a lawsuit to stop the city from reducing staffing, as well as administrative litigation to overturn Bloomberg's recent decision to shutter six fire companies.

    Under a 1996 agreement between the city and the union, the city had the right to cut staffing because the department's sick leave exceeded more than 7.5% in the past year. Average medical leave is currently above 8.5%.

    "I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I've made a reasonable balance between the fiscal needs of this city and the protection of the men and women of the Fire Department," Bloomberg said yesterday.

    The staffing reduction will immediately save the city about $6.5 million, aides said.

    Stephen Cassidy, president of the union, said the high percentage of medical leave is directly related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Before the attacks, medical leave ranged between 6.4% and 6.6%, he said.

    "This will always, always be the most dangerous job in America, and firefighters will always put their lives on the line," Cassidy said. "I just feel a little more comfortable today to say that they can do that with more resources than we would have, had we not reached this agreement."

    The deal lets the city restore five-person staffing if medical leave declines at designated times throughout the year. If medical leave rises, the city could still reduce staffing at the 29 spared companies.

    The agreement does not affect a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 16 elected officials and others to stop the city from closing the six fire companies.

    Originally published on June 4, 200

  2. #2
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    Bloomberg Scales Back His Plan to Reduce Staffing in Firehouses

    Bloomberg Scales Back His Plan to Reduce Staffing in Firehouses

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scaled back another of his threatened budget cuts yesterday, agreeing not to reduce staffing in as many fire companies as planned.

    The mayor had intended to cut staffing levels at more than 50 fire engine companies to four firefighters each from five, to save roughly $13 million a year. Under a deal announced yesterday with the largest city fire union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the mayor agreed to cut staffing at only 23 engine companies.

    The deal ends a contentious fight with the city's fire unions, who have argued for months that the reduced staffing levels would endanger firefighters' lives. The agreement gave the mayor a chance to stand beside union officials who were some of his loudest critics last month when he ordered six firehouses closed to save money.

    The union in turn agreed to drop seven legal challenges, including a lawsuit seeking to prevent the city from reducing the staffing, and administrative and labor proceedings trying to force the city to restore the six fire companies.

    One of the six firehouses, Engine Company 272 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, has been temporarily reopened. Engine Company 282, from Borough Park, is moving there while its firehouse is renovated, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said yesterday. The company is expected to move back to Borough Park in November, officials said.

    Two Bloomberg administration officials said the union decision to drop its effort to save the six fire companies should take the wind out of other critics' sails, because it shows that the union was more concerned about staffing levels than about the closed firehouses.

    "Manning is a key issue for firefighters, because it's a safety issue," Stephen J. Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said at a City Hall news conference announcing the deal.

    A City Council official noted that the union's decision to drop its legal proceedings would not affect a lawsuit brought by 16 elected officials seeking to reopen the firehouses. That suit, which the union did not join, is pending in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

    Mayor Bloomberg said that even though he would reduce staffing at fewer companies, he expected that the city would still save roughly $13 million, in part because he expects the number of firefighters on sick leave to decline.

    Staffing levels, sick leave and overtime are intimately related. Because of minimum staffing requirements, when firefighters are out sick the department must fill their positions with others working overtime. Because of that, and because a spate of retirements left the department understaffed even though the city has hired new recruits, the department exceeded its overtime budget this year by tens of millions of dollars.

    A report issued yesterday by the New York State Financial Control Board said that the Fire Department would spend roughly $171 million on overtime this year, $85 million more than planned.

    Just how this agreement will reduce sick leave levels was unclear yesterday. Mr. Cassidy took pains to note that he did not have any control over sick leave.

    More than two-thirds of the city's 197 engine companies already have only four firefighters. Under the city's contract with the union, it has the right to cut staffing levels at all but 11 engine companies if sick leave at the department averages more than 7.5 percent for a year. Sick leave is now at more than 8.5 percent, and the city has been trying to reduce staffing at the engine companies for months.

    Union officials argued that the sick leave rate was driven up by illnesses and injuries to firefighters in the World Trade Center attacks and in the later recovery efforts. The mayor argued that very little of the high sick leave rate could be attributed to the attacks and their aftereffects, and said in December: "You have a contract, both parties have to live up to that contract. Period."

    Asked yesterday why he agreed to negotiate, the mayor said, "I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I've made a reasonable balance between the fiscal needs of this city and the protection of the men and women of the Fire Department."

    The mayor announced the deal in the afternoon after spending the morning at the Fire Department's new $45 million addition to its training center on Randalls Island.

    Mayor Bloomberg tried out the Burn Building, a training building that spouts flames and can reach up to 1,000 degrees.

    He was draped in a heavy black, yellow-striped Fire Department coat when a department trainer offered him a fire helmet, leading a nervous press aide, who may have had Michael Dukakis in mind, to demur vigorously on his behalf. A few minutes later the mayor emerged, slightly pink of face.

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