FMBA Opposes Reduction in Fire Department Minimums
Minimum crew level dropped from seven to six.
Citing budget concerns, the fire department has dropped the minimum crew size from seven to six, prompting the firefighters union president to object due to public safety.
Deputy Fire Chief David Kelly said the decision was made after an analysis was conducted of the department's overtime budget and looking ahead in the budget for the remainder of the year. The impact is on the number of firefighters on the crews in place at the department.
"The overtime budget has been exceeded for the year," Kelly said. "To avoid going over budget we had to make changes in daily staffing levels."
Currently the department has three crews in place with two consisting of eight firefighters and two of nine. Nine has been the maximum crew in place with the two eight man crews in place due to two vacancies not filled due to the town's hiring freeze.
Kelly said the decision was made after a study was done of neighboring communities and the minimum staffing levels in neighboring communities, including Summit and Cranford, which are both are five man minimums.
Kelly said that fire safety will not be jeopadized based on the drop in the minimum crew number. He noted that the department had tried the drop to a minimum of a six member crew in 2007 and it did not impact public safety at that time. He said firefighters will need to adjust to accommodate the smaller crew size.
Mike Sawicki, the president of the Westfield Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, objected to the crew downsizing, saying that the 2007 move did not work out well for the department. He said that right after the move was made in 2007 the department went through a series of incidents which are still being felt to today.
He said there was a major motor vehicle accident shortly after the downsizing which required the jaws of life to extract a victim which injured a firefighter. The next night Sawicki said two firefighters were injured while fighting a fire. He said these two firefighters are still receiving physical therapy for their injuries.
Sawicki said the department was also cited by the state labor department for not having a two in, two out policy during a December 2007 fire which he attributes to the downsizing. The two in, two out policy requires two firefighters to be stationed outside a fire while two are in the fire.
He said the seven man crew was put back into effect following a meeting between town officials and state FMBA leaders.
Councilman Mark Ciarrocca, the Council's finance committee chairman, said he does not see any impact from a downsizing, noting that the contract signed between the town and the FMBA includes a one year salary freeze and increased give backs which saved firefighter jobs.
Ciarrocca said in the event that the FMBA did not agree to the new contract the department would have seen significant layoffs which would have harmed public safety.
Ciarrocca said the town's hiring freeze, enacted earlier this year following a drop in non-tax revenues, would not be lifted to fill the two firefighter posts. The hiring freeze policy was written to allow a lift in the event filling a position helped the town's public safety. There have been no exemptions made to the hiring freeze including to fill positions in the fire and police departments.
"Absolutely not, no," Ciarrocca said about lifting the freeze. "We don't have the money to do it. Frankly, the fire department would have been reduced further but for the concessions. They were able to save jobs."
Sawicki said he believes the manpower reductions are not necessary and will have only one impact on the community.
"Public safety suffers," Sawicki said of the downsizing move.