Letters: It’s not about fire safety; union fears losing the OT
Local 22 has been trying to tell the public that the city’s fire-station brownouts are new and unsafe. Don’t let the union fool you; this is about the fire union’s campaign to preserve overtime. Brownouts are not a safety issue. Brownouts have been used in Philadelphia since I have been a member of the Fire Department, and they are used all over the country for training and overtime-reduction purposes. Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and countless others are all using brownouts. No fire department would engage in this practice if it were unsafe. If an emergency ever occurs in your home or neighborhood, the Fire Department will respond in the same manner it always has.
The battle that Local 22 is drumming up is simply a disagreement over reducing overtime pay. In the past, brownouts were used primarily for training. Now, brownouts are also used for routine vacancies that were previously paid for using overtime money.
I, along with my executive team and field staff, have been discussing the use of brownouts for two years as a way to save money and jobs. It was firefighters with years of operational knowledge and experience who made this decision, and not a group of people in suits who don’t understand the job. In doing so, we considered the size of a company’s coverage area, the number of daily runs made, workload by shift, proximity to other companies, response times by surrounding companies, and other pertinent issues.
The safety of Philadelphia remains paramount in every decision I make as fire commissioner. Our firefighters are dedicated to the public’s safety and work hard for their paychecks; that’s not in question. But, in these economic times, Local 22’s leadership will need to play a cooperative role in reducing our costs as well. I’m asking Local 22 president Bill Gault to stop engaging in misleading rhetoric and asking members not to show up for work, and instead to partner with me and the hardworking firefighters and paramedics to deal with these hard economic realities and continue to keep Philadelphia safe.
Philadelphia Fire Department