LOCKPORT – Reductions in the number of Fire Department personnel assigned to each shift went into effect Thursday, and the firefighters union immediately filed grievances, contending that the actions violated their contract and other documents.
Members of the Common Council discussed the situation with the Fire Board behind closed doors Wednesday evening, and Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey confirmed after the meeting that the Council made no changes in the orders issued Wednesday by Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite.
The chief’s orders carried out the decisions the Fire Board made April 22: Minimum personnel for each shift was cut from nine to seven; one of the city’s two ambulances was taken out of service; two paramedics instead of three will ride to each call on the remaining ambulance; and the city’s ladder truck also will be taken out of service except in emergencies.
“We’re having another meeting in two weeks to see how this works,” said Council President Joseph C. Kibler, who barred some rank-and-file firefighters from Wednesday’s closed meeting.
That conference between the Council and the Fire Board was set for 5:30 p.m. May 13.
Firefighter Kevin W. Pratt, president of the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the union filed four separate grievances, one against each of the orders.
He said the reduction in minimum personnel “is a violation of the contract, but it also violates the arbitration award.” That was a state arbitrator’s ruling a few years ago that squelched a city attempt to cut minimum manning.
“We have every right in the world under the contract to do this, without a doubt,” Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley said.
Pratt said that parking the ladder truck violates the department’s standard operating procedures. “There’s some discretion that puts the onus (of using it) on the duty officer,” Pratt said.
McCaffrey said last week that the cutbacks were made after Passuite projected that at the rate the city has been spending money on Fire Department overtime this year, the tab might reach $1 million by year’s end. That’s twice what the city budgeted.
Kibler said the second ambulance can be used in case of mechanical problems with the first vehicle.
The department’s roster now includes 37 firefighters, plus the chief and a training officer. The Council reduced the department by seven members with layoffs at the start of the year, but the four-platoon system remained in effect: two groups on and two off each day, with members of other platoons called in if minimum personnel couldn’t be achieved.
Those call-ins are paid overtime for the entire shift, with the shifts being either 10 or 14 hours long.