It’s one thing for the media to get a story wrong sometimes. A fluid situation, the need to get information out quickly even human error are all part of the business. It’s something totally different to print things that aren’t true because you just don’t do your job. Unfortunately that’s where the Philadelphia Inquirer is these days when it comes to their coverage of the Fire Department. They are printing things as fact that just aren’t true. What’s worse when these issues are pointed out to them they defend their bad reporting and hide behind third-party statements instead of doing their jobs.
Let’s get something straight up front: The press in America has Constitutional Protection. That’s a big deal. With such special privilege come special responsibilities. Those responsibilites require them to be impartial reporters of the FACTS. There are many instances in this editorial where they are either inaccurate or play fast and loose with the truth. Here are the examples:
Spending nearly a half-million dollars and taking half a year to study the Philadelphia Fire Department seems to have more to do with politics than public safety.
The city has said all along that they have ALREADY studied the case for the brownouts. Where is this study? Why hasn’t the Inquirer already asked to see this study presumably paid for with tax payer dollars? (The same dollars the supposedly cherish). It’s safe to say no such study exists.
In fact, it’s remarkable that Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers has kept from gagging at the notion that his assessment of how personnel and equipment should be deployed isn’t worth a tinker’s damn. But how else can he take the idea that only an independent review can figure out how his department can best serve the city?
The Fire Commissioner WORKS FOR THE MAYOR. The Mayor says cut “X” million dollars from your budget and he does. No one studies the impact that will have on the department and no one cares to. Funny how the Inky makes the case for blind allegiance to public officials. I guess that’s how they missed the Carl Green and DRPA scandals until they exploded in their lap.
The city’s financial overseer, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, has been asked to pay the study’s $300,000 to $450,000 cost. It would cost far less for city officials to do what they are paid to accomplish: Match service needs to funds – and take the heat for unpopular decisions.
This would be true except you have people like EVERETT GILLISON, a PUBLIC DEFENDER in charge of the Mayors public safety strategy. He is utterly unqualified to make any decisions on public safety. The city has a biased position here and the Inky just doesn’t care. Never once questioning Mr. Gillison’s public safety credentials.
In that last category place the Nutter administration’s decision to use a service-reduction device called “rolling brownouts” to reduce Fire Department costs, rather than closing more fire stations and/or laying off firefighters.
You would think the fire union would be grateful for a plan that saves jobs. Instead, it has fueled public protests of the brownouts as a menace to public safety – all the while denying that its members covet the millions of dollars in overtime they won’t be paid under the brownout system.
This is an outright lie. We are STILL working overtime but it is because we are UNDERSTAFFED no other reason. We are understaffed because the Fire Department has not hired a class in two years. In two years we have had dozens of retirements and positions eliminated but we are still short. When our guys started refusing overtime the Fire Commissioner accused us of staging a work stoppage. WHICH IS IT INKY?
The brownouts, which began in August, call for up to three fire stations to be closed on specific days, with their personnel then rotated to stations where overtime would otherwise be needed to cover for absent personnel. Only 23 of the city’s 56 fire companies are involved in the rotations.
That is three companies PER SHIFT, every day. They can’t even get this simple fact straight. That’s SIX companies a day since we work TWO shifts a day. We work two shifts- day and night, because the city SAVES MONEY with us on two shifts as opposed to three like the police. Here’s a question for the Inky: Who covers for the companies that are CLOSED on any given shift? Other stations, farther away, provided they aren’t out covering for some other company.
Other cities, including New York and Los Angeles, are doing brownouts – not because they want to, but because, like Philadelphia, they must cut costs. Facing a budget deficit, Mayor Nutter believes the brownouts will save the city $3.8 million.
And they are just as wrong for doing it there. 3.8 million from a 4 billion dollar budget has to come from public safety on top of the enormous cuts we have already sustained? The Fire Department is the most efficient department in city government with the most important mission: To save the lives, property and economic base of the city.
Seriously is the Inquirer holding up NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES as models of FISCAL DISCIPLINE? Last time I looked California was 25+ BILLION DOLLARS in the hole, bankrupt and poised to elect Gerry Brown as its next governor. New York isn’t much better. You have got to be kidding me. Rolling brownouts (closings) of fire protection is an unsound tactic that can’t be found in ANY manual of fire protection. They were invented by bean counters who couldn’t give a rats ass about public safety. Remember there are more LAWYERS at our contract hearings than firemen at a box alarm. Oh yeah, they CARE.
Saving lives is more important than saving money through brownouts, argues fire union Local 22 President Bill Gault. Does that mean he would prefer to see the mayor close fire stations? Nutter closed seven last year. It was one of the difficult spending decisions he did make, knowing he can’t tax his way to a balanced budget.
But the Mayor and Gillison said the policy was safe. I spoke to someone from the Inquirer’s editorial desk and they said the Mayor denied closing seven companies. Incrediblt they bought this as well. How about walking over to Ladder 01’s station (used to be first in at their building) and asking the four firemen on duty where Ladder 01 is? Duh. In fact Mayor Nutter already HAS TRIED to tax his way out as usual. He had the sales tax raised to 8% in the city as opposed to 6% in the rest of the state and property taxes are going up as well.
Here the Inky presents a false choice and it’s pretty slick: Save lives or close fire stations. In fact Nutter closed NO stations which shows his decisions are purely politically motivated. He closed COMPANIES (Individual trucks) and kept the stations open. It’s a shell game. Here’s a fire station with no fire engine in it or just a ladder company. The public won’t know. In truth there are facilities we could live without or that could be closed and moved to a better location but it’s POLITICS that keeps that from happening, not the Union.
But the mayor, perhaps with an eye toward reelection, too often has a hard time withstanding public pressure. The idea of an independent review of the Fire Department seems to be tied to the heat Nutter is getting from Gault and others who are linking the death of an autistic child in an Aug. 7 house fire to the brownout earlier that day of the closest fire station.
The charge doesn’t hold water. The response time from a fire station blocks away was well within standards, and witnesses said the 12-year-old boy refused entreaties to leave the burning house because he was afraid – not because firefighters arrived late.
Here the Inky lies outright. I documented this job on this blog and presented the FACTS. The response time was TOTALLY unacceptable and citizens on the street TESTIFIED before City Council to that effect. Is the Inky calling the citizens who witnessed this horror and the Firefighters who responded liars? It certainly seems that way. How low will they sink to justify the dangerous policies of this administration? 57’s could have saved this kid no question in my mind about it. No mention of the man who died the other night when Engine 45 was browned out either.
They continue to carry water for this Mayor in the face of yet another fire death this week. Engine 45 was browned out the night of the 5 alarm fire and a man died in a house fire in their local. Ironically they covered up Engine 45 later that night with an OVERTIME CREW called in from home. Yet the Inky ignores / fails to report THESE FACTS to the public.
There should be no further exploitation of a child’s death to make points in what is essentially a budget debate. But neither should there be assertions that the brownouts are risk free. The sooner they can end, the better.
Oh this is rich. The Inky wants to frame the debate with rules favorable to the Mayor- It’s a budgetary debate. Well it IS a budgetary debate to the bean counters in City Hall. But it’s a LIFE SAFETY debate to the firefighters and citizens who need our help. Nice try. People who die because of poor public safety decisions made by those in charge of public safety deserve to have their stories told. Those responsible deserve to be HELD ACCOUNTABLE. The Mayor would like to sweep any fire death related to these brownouts under the rug for sure. It’s the INQUIRERS job to tell their story and hold him and his administration accountable.
The end of the brownouts, though, should result from a comprehensive study of fire-safety needs – a study that shouldn’t take six months to complete and ought to be part of a long-overdue, apolitical, top-to-bottom internal performance audit of all city government operations.
Wow, very REPUBLICAN of them don’t you think? Who is going to do this study? Lawyers paid for with city tax dollars? PICA? Come on. The city has already said they have a study and the brownouts are safe. Now the Inky isn’t so sure? Talk about hedging your bets.
Aside from the police we should be LAST in line for any budget cuts. Incredibly the Fire Department has already sustained significant cuts yet the politicians are coming back for more. You can make up your own mind about this issue. The democrat party has NEVER been friendly to public safety or the military in general. These policies reflect an attitude of disdain that some in their party harbor toward those who ask nothing except an honest days pay for an honest days work.
We don’t ask for much in the fire service. None of us are in this business to get rich and we know that coming in the door. But we certainly aren’t fools who will tolerate anyone making our job any harder, more dangerous or risking lives because of the screwed up priorities of some Mayor, while the local media back slaps him all the way to the cemetery.