Thursday, April 02, 2009

Love Affair With Buffalo's Firefighters Ends

Citizens demand that Firefighter overtime be eliminated.
by: Lou Angeli

BUFFALO, NY (April 2, 2009) -- Crooks, the millionaires club and greedy old men. Nope, these aren’t remarks about the scoundrels who have set this nation’s economy in a tailspin. Rather, they are comments being voiced by the citizens of Buffalo, NY about city’s firefighters, who find themselves defending the fact that they accepted $10 million last year in overtime.

Although I'm not a Buffalo resident, our small East Coast Department, along with cities like Phoenix, Columbia (SC), Houston and dozens of others have financial woes similar to those being experienced in Buffalo. But in Buffalo, the specific complaint deals with the amount of overtime that firefighters are offered in order to keep the city’s firehouses running.

It's quite interesting to read blog responses of citizens as they rip away at the members of the Buffalo Fire Department. Seemingly, many of them equate the current overtime situation, and the firefighters themselves, with the likes of Bernie Maddof, Bear Stearns and AIG. As I mentioned in an OP-ED, firefighters punch a time clock, they don't sign multi-million dollar cons.

Like most other union organized departments in this nation, Buffalo FD operates with a contract, part of which calls for the total authorized personnel required to run the department in its current form and function.

However -- and this is the fact that The Buffalo News fails to reveal -- BFD is about 153 firefighters short of that authorized number. Only 613 firefighters currently work in Buffalo's firehouses, however the authorized strength is established at 766.

The current authorized strength came after deep, deep cuts in the BFD, which began back in 1978 and continued for nearly 20 years. Today, the department, its tactics and operations are based on the 766 number, which both the commissioner and chief say is needed to properly protect the city and its citizens, while maintaining minimum staffing requirements. So no one should be surprised, especially the city's financial team, that its necessary to call in off-duty firefighters, on an overtime basis, to cover empty positions left by 153 missing firemen.

If Boston’s citizens have a gripe with firefighters, and the amount that they earn through overtime, they need to take direct aim at the city administration – not front line firefighters. It has been 8 years since the city graduated a recruit class, so the real problem is not overtime, but rather the fact that the city has failed to hire additional firefighters.

The sure fire method for lowering overtime is to hire those firefighters (or some portion thereof) that the city promised in its contract with IAFF Local 282. In our faltering economy, the new jobs would be a much needed boost for young men and women, many of whom are already trained for the position and chomping at the bit to help the public.

There are dozens of ideas that can help reduce operational costs without placing risk to the public and firefighters themselves. But such interaction requires an open line of communications among fire administration, the union and the citizens themselves.

Instead of griping at the city's firefighters, perhaps Buffalo residents, who are the most angered, might consider serving on a community advisory committee, which would offer advice on how overtime could be reduced without affecting the true mission of the BFD -- saving lives and limiting property damage.


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