City Council, union slams Nutter administration over mass firefighter transfers

Local 22 President Bill Gault, center.

Members of city firefighters union Local 22 packed City Council chambers on Thursday to protest a new mass transfer policy slated to go into effect this January that would reassign up to 20 percent of firefighters annually, beginning with some of the department’s longest-serving veterans. “This plan is dangerous,” Local 22 President Bill Gault said. “This plan hasn’t been done anywhere in the country. This is taking the senior guys out of the spots where they know the local like the back of their hand.”

A Nov. 1 department-wide memo from Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the new policy will have each firefighter serve in a given assignment for an average of five years. “The goal here is to develop a firefighting force that has a wide level of experience and skill,” said Mayor Michael Nutter’s press secretary Mark McDonald, who called Gault’s statements “absurd.” “The city is made up of many different areas with different kinds of buildings, different kinds of fire threat issues, and it’s the belief of the administration that residents will be better served by a stronger firefighting force that has broad experience in different parts of the city.”

But union officials argued that the transfers will accomplish the polar opposite. “Injuries and response times will rise if this policy stands,” Gault said. “The firefighters they intend to transfer are the ones who teach the young guys, the ones who know the unique features of the surrounding neighborhoods and the best routes to take to reach a fire site quickly and safely.”

McDonald noted that the policy was crafted over six months with the participation of a union representative and that firefighters will be able to submit five choices of places they’d like to transfer, as well as apply for hardship exceptions. “A lot of times, firefighters will work overtime and they very often do that in other fire districts,” he said. “So it’s literally the situation that Mr. Gault is saying is so dangerous.”

Gault suggested the policy’s motives may be more sinister. “We have to wonder if the mass transfer policy is a thinly-veiled attempt to force veteran firefighters who stand to be affected by the mass transfers into early retirement, resulting in cost savings to the city,” he said. “Many of the veteran firefighters who stand to be affected by the mass transfers are in the D.R.O.P. and only have a year or two to go before retirement.”

Local 22 Recording Secretary Mike Bresnan said the transfers will erode public safety by destroying decades-long bonds between unit members. “If you’ve got four guys in an engine company that have been together for 20 years, they’re each others’ godfathers and best men in weddings,” he said, likening the trust forged among members to that created during military combat. “They’re just grabbing at straws, I think, to substantiate what they’re trying to do and I think ultimately they want to break up that cohesion, they don’t want that unity. They may look at it as we’re uniting against management.”   

The union has been embroiled in a contentious contract dispute with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration since 2009 and filed a lawsuit this summer after the city declined for the second time to honor the binding terms awarded by a third-party arbitrator. “I would hate to assign reasons for it that probably shouldn’t be said,” Councilman Jim Kenney said of the transfer policy. “But I just think that it’s wrong.”

Council has their backs

Local 22 on Thursday found a friend in City Council. Councilmen Mark Squilla, Bobby Henon, Jim Kenney, Brian O’Neill and David Oh introduced legislation to hold a hearing investigating the transfer policy. The resolution passed Council and the hearing is set for Nov. 27.

Kenney recounted an email he received from a firefighter in Engine 10, who in August lost Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney in a partial building collapse during a Kensington warehouse blaze. “One of things he said to me that was very poignant was a number of people in that company were responsible for digging out the two fallen firefighters and those that survived and they’re still healing and they’re trying to get their heads and hearts back together after that loss,” Kenney said. “And two of those firefighters in that company are scheduled to be transferred away from their families, away from their communities and to me, that’s just cold-hearted.”

Henon on Wednesday sent letters to Nutter and Ayers opposing the new policy. “I think that it absolutely needs to be looked at deeper,” he said Thursday. “And I’d like to know the methodology and the reasoning for putting our citizens in harm’s way.”

By the numbers


295
Firefighters will be transferred in 2013, including 156 who have been in their assignment for 10 years or more and 57 who have been in the same assignment since graduation from the academy. Firefighters who have been in the same assignment for 8 years or more, along with additional classes whose members have been in the same assignment since graduation, are slated to be transferred in 2014.

270 Firefighters this year submitted transfer requests that were not honored, according to Gault. McDonald said that he had no idea what Gault was talking about.

10 Years is the average amount of time it takes for a firefighter to become familiar with his or her local, Gault said.

5 Years is the average amount of time firefighters will serve in any given assignment under the transfer policy.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…