Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mayor Strikes a Deep Blow to Philly's Firefighters

Mayor Michael Nutter

by: Lou Angeli

PHILADELPHIA, PA (December 18, 2008) -- Back in early November, Philly Mayor Michael Nutter announced plans to cut 7 companies from the Philadelphia Fire Department roster. The closings were part of a larger budget cut package that will eventually cost 800 city employees their jobs. Nutter’s reason? He says that the city faces "an economic storm" that could result in a $1 billion shortfall.

The proposed cuts to the Philadelphia Fire Department would be the most drastic in the agency’s 300-year history. Companies, which are being eliminated include:

Engine-1, Engine-6, Engine-8, Engine-14, Engine-39, Ladder-1, Ladder-11

Nutter has defended the company closings as being crucial to the city’s fiscal health, but critics want proof that proposed cuts won't increase risks. They cite increased response times and workload, as neighboring companies pick up the slack.

The cuts will reduce the department’s operating strength by 147, which essentially cancels the department’s new rookie class. A sad state of affairs as many of those young men and women have waited as long a 4 years for the class – and their careers – to begin. No active firefighters will lose their jobs as the city plans to reassign them to other stations in the city.

Engine-8, a popular spot for tourists and firebuffs, is already missing from this picture.

Whenever any fire station is closed, one can expect the community to be up at arms. But Philadelphians have been especially vocal in regard to this issue, launching impromptu street protests and supporting firefighters during their scheduled demonstrations.

Additionally, many of the closings make no tactical sense. For example, in the Roxborough section of the city, the loss of Engine 39 means that the first-due company in much of the area will be its station partner, Ladder 30, a tractor drawn aerial. Should a working fire occur, the ladder crew will be forced to wait for one of three surrounding Engine Companies to arrive before the fire attack to begin. Imagine the chaos as 5 firefighters pace back and forth in front of the burning building, waiting for water to arrive.

During presentation of his budget cut package, Mayor Nutter indicated that Emergency Medical Services would not be affected. If you read between the lines you’ll find that the comment is misleading. Each of the 7 companies, which are scheduled to be closed, are dispatched as a first responders on life-threatening emergencies. At least one member of each company is certified to the EMT-B level and nearly all members have been trained in the use of AED’s. It’s not unusual for an Engine or Ladder crew to have stabilized a critically ill or injured patient before the arrival of firemedic units.

The last of a dozen or so town meetings with Mayor Nutter was held last night but it doesn’t appear that he’ll be changing his mind soon. In the meantime, IAFF Local 22, the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, yesterday sued the city in both Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Common Pleas Court. Both complaints cite that firefighter safety and health will be compromised if the city proceeds with the closings.

“We have taken this step because we have no other choice,” said IAFF Local 22 President Brian McBride, a 33 year veteran of the Fire Department. “Lives are at stake', McBride added, 'Unless we do something to slow this thing down, I am convinced that people will die.”

There is no specific date set for the closings, but the Mayor has indicated they will take place just after the New Year. Many expect the shutdowns to take place without any warning, with on-coming crews being sent home to await reassignment.

For additional information, or to support Philly’s firefighters, visit this special website


-Philadelphia Inquirer
-IAFF Local 22

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