Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baker's Budget Passes, Layoffs Take Place July 1st

Citizens Form Volunteer Brigades To Assist Career Colleagues

by: Lou Angeli

WILMINGTON, DE (May 28, 2009) -- Even with 4 NO votes and 2 abstentions, the city of Wilmington's controversial FY 2010 budget passed City Council this evening with just 7 votes. Last week the vote was tabled to give the city more time to hammer out an agreement with Wilmington Fire Fighters Local 1590.

"Oh, we hammered," says Kevin Turner, president of IAFF Local 1590. "We hammered on Bill Montgomery's door day in and day out -- and he never answered."

So, in essence, the Baker administration flipped Wilmington City Council the Golden Phoenix, ignoring Council President Norm Griffith's assurances that "we'll have an agreement by next Thursday."

Well, today is next Thursday, and it has come and gone. The administration will not consider a simple language change, a short clause which would protect newly-hired firefighters from being dropped. A small request to bring about unity and guarantee citizen safety.

"Their reluctance to add such a caviat,' says UD professor Claude Reynolds, 'is proof positive that it has been the administration's plan to conduct layoffs all along."

Negotiations experts from across the country are following the drama closely, suggesting that Mayor Baker's mind may have been taken over by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It's as if he doesn't feel the need to answer to anyone," commented Patrice J. Gooding, acting CEO of The Medium Sized City Political Coalition. Council members should have been insulted by Baker's lack of response, Gooding says, instead "they seem to like the fact that he's not paying any attention to them."

In the meantime, Lord William Montgomery suggested that 8 layoffs would not be sufficient and to expect more firings.

"We're considering 30 layoffs in total,' Montgomery explained, 'because we still haven't fully funded the Barber Shop Quartet Festival," which is scheduled to be held on the Riverfront in August.

Montgomery continued, "Knocking off another 22 firefighters should do the trick and provide us the monies needed to make this a wholesome, well attended event."

"Even with 30 firefighters gone, we'll be able to maintain rapid response times and quality service." says Nunzio Scarpetti, a firefighting consultant who Mayor Baker has elevated to SuperDooperChief of the Wilmington Fire Department.

Scarpetti, a volunteer from Long Island, laughed. "We'll show these Wilmington boys how to make a 2-man engine company effective." Asked to explain, Scarpetti noted that he wasn't sure what he meant. "I just like to say shit that sounds good."

In the meantime, Wilmingtonians are gearing up to provide their own fire-rescue protection.
In the city's Little Italy section, a new mimi-pumper was donated by private contributions to residents of "The Antonian," a high rise apartment complex for the elderly. The brigade is currently conducting training in the parish rectory, and includes both men and women.

Leading the new brigade into action is Brother Mike, a St. Anthony's icon, most recognized for his work during the Italian festival. Mike is confident that the brigade will be effective.

"I guarantee you that we'll smoke Engine 6 anywhere northof 8th Street," said the 87 year old Oblate. "Hell, let em roll the entire house -- we'll have the fire knocked down by the time they arrive."

"They can take up my freakin' lines!" said Dolores DeFeo, who at 92, is wagon driver for the brigade.

Dolores proudly notes that she comes from firefighting stock. Her great grandfather was part of the Rome Fire Brigade during Nero's famous violin solo.

Other brigades are forming around the city, but are less boastful than those on "the hill."

"We concede that our career colleagues are under a bit of a disadvantage," said Rev. Theo Green, of Riverside. "We're simply trying to give them a helping hand during these hard times."

It's Rev Green and Brother Mike's enthusiasm that will allow the members of the Wilmington Fire Department to keep their minds during the final years of the Baker administration.

We're all hoping that by then, someone special ascends to Wilmington's Mayordom. Perhaps someone who understands that public safety is about protecting the citizen public -- not playing head games with firefighters and law enforcement personnel.


Note: Like Weekend Update, many of the stories and comments which appear in the piece have been fabricated. For example, Dolores DeFeo is only 91.

Kokomo Fire Chief, Deputy, Resign Over Layoffs

Bitter Battle Ends With 12 Firefighter Layoffs

contributed by

KOKOMO, IN (May 28, 2009) The two highest ranking administrative officers of the Kokomo Fire Department have resigned their positions as a result of Mayor Greg Goodnight's decision to lay off 12 firefighters.

Chief Scott Kern, a 20-year veteran of the department, and Assistant Chief Randy Wilson submitted their letters of resignation Friday to Goodnight, according to city spokesman David Gavin. The resignations took effect on Sunday.

Both Kern and Wilson remain with the department. Gavin said Goodnight has named Deputy Chief Brad Myers as acting chief. Earlier this month, Goodnight ended the department's EMS service. Those duties were shifted to Howard Regional Health System and St. Joseph Hospital.

The layoff of the 12 firefighters was not unexpected. Jeremy Shaw, president of Local 396 of the International Association of Firefighters Union, said last week that since Goodnight took office on Jan. 1, 2008, the number of firefighters has declined from 121 to 100.

Kern said last week that Goodnight’s decision jeopardizes safety at fire scenes for members of the department.

Goodnight said Kern has mentioned resigning three or four times in the past few weeks.Kern could not be reached for comment.“What we have done is revamp the fire department,”

Goodnight said Tuesday. “We have eliminated two administrative offices, reducing that number from eight to six and eliminated ambulance transport, which had 15 jobs associated with the service but only eliminated 12 positions.

“We have the same number of people at each station and truck and the same number of stations,” he continued.

Goodnight said he met three times with officials of Local 396 to provide them an opportunity to help find a solution. He said the union recommended closing Kokomo Beach and the Senior Citizens Center. Goodnight said that would not provide enough savings.

“This is an attempt by firefighters to hold onto their benefits,” Goodnight said. “The union president also suggested a trash fee, which the citizens of Kokomo can’t afford.”

A pamphlet being distributed by the firefighters union is urging residents to speak out against the cuts in the fire department.

“Hardest hit will be the southeastern and southwestern parts of the city,” the pamphlet reads, “which is troubling since high-occupancy buildings such as the Walnut Creek Apartments, Westbrook Apartments and new library are located in this areas.”

The pamphlet further states with the planned annexation of 14 square miles over the next two years the fire department’s resources will be stretched thinner, which could mean longer response times.

Goodnight said the pamphlet is not accurate in that the Kokomo Fire Department already provides service to 7 square miles of the annexation area that are in Center Township.

“When I eliminated the two management positions, the union said it created a safety issue,” Goodnight said. “When we eliminated ambulance transport, the union said it created a safety issue.

“They say it every single time,” he said. “We have less people in the front office and no people providing ambulance transport. Everything has stayed exactly the same."

Rescource: Kokomo Tribune

Monday, May 25, 2009

Firefighters Saved as Council Tables Budget

News-Journal OP-ED

Last Thursday evening, Mayor Baker’s controversial FY 2010 budget was sent to City Council for its approval. Prior to the meeting, many believed that passage would be a shoe-in. However, the prospect of losing 8 city firefighters was a major concern for many city council members, and during voting it became clear that the budget would not pass. The vote was tabled for one week, allowing the city and firefighters’ union more time to remedy the problem.

The city wants firefighters to accept a compromise “no salary increase/no layoff” plan, which administration says would avoid the need to layoff firefighters during FY 2010.

Kevin Turner, President of Wilmington Firefighters Local 1590, has indicated that the major stumbling block deals with the “no layoff” language in the proposed agreement. Although probationary firefighters are not yet represented by the union, Turner, an Engine Lieutenant, wants the city to guarantee that the newbies won’t be bumped.

I call upon the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Bill Montgomery and Local 1590 President Kevin Turner to move quickly in reaching a tentative agreement, much like the one announced by FOP Lodge #1 last week. There is a very short window of opportunity, and tabling the budget again is not an option.

City Council came to the rescue -- please show them that it was a meaningful save.

Lou Angeli
Public Safety Advocate

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Open Letter To Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. Vice President,

Here in your hometown of Wilmington, firefighters and citizens are marking the closing of RESCUE-ONE, quite possibly the most important fire-rescue unit in the state. The reason? Mayor James Baker's decision to layoff highly trained public servants for not agreeing to his unusual demand to ignore the articles of their contract, which were negotiated and signed just weeks ago.

The citizens of Wilmington and the State are losing the ONLY full-time technical rescue team in the First State. With Rescue-One's closure the city of Wilmington returns to tactics that were used in the 1960's. The family trapped in a wrecked auto along I-95 will be required to wait for a volunteer squad to come to their rescue. Such delayed rescues will deprive them from gaining quick access to definitive health care at nearby Trauma centers.

Workers trapped on a scaffold on the upper floors of a Wilmington High-Rise will be required to wait it out hundreds of feet above the street, as dispatchers check with surrounding cities to determine if fire-rescue administrators are willing to lend assistance. Children caught in a swiftwater Brandywine River will perish as their would be rescuers stand not grabbing hold of a rescue line, but rather holding paperwork in the unemployment line.

Many see Rescue-One's closing as being punitive in nature, as the city administration has turned a deaf ear to dozens of options offered by citizens and firefighters alike.

Mr. Baker’s layoffs make a bad problem worse. The firings will do absolutely nothing to help fix the overriding problem -- overtime. So Chief Willie Patrick will still need to initiate his proposed rolling bypass concept, which closes inadequately staffed stations for the day. There will be days when this city of 75,000 plus will be protected by as few as 24 firefighters -- down from 38.

Mr. Vice President, you have said on several occasions that the burden of current state, county and city financial woes should not be borne on the backs of its public servants. President Obama announced last week substantial increases in the SAFER program, which you helped develop as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. Surely, Wilmington's finance officer could develop a proposal requesting assistance from the SAFER fund.

I know that your schedule is extremely tight, but many of us in Wilmington are hoping that a phone call to the Mayor may help him re-think this decision.

I respectfully submit this letter as a firefighter advocate, and as the rookie firefighter who responded, along with Larry Mertgenthaler and Don Lentes, to the horrible accident that affected you and your family in December of 1972.


Lou Angeli
2203 N. Harrison Street
Wilmington, DE 19802

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Jesusita Fire (Santa Barbara)

IMG_4366 copy
Originally uploaded by


SANTA BARBARA, CA (May 9, 2009) -- Flames consume a multimillion dollar home on a hillside above the City of Santa Barbara. The evacuation area now includes many urban areas of Santa Barbara City as far as Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast.

Unified Command reports 30% containment, with 9,000 acres burned and 70 structures destroyed.Structure protection is the current mission, with 3500 residences and 100 commercial properties threatened by the blaze.

Nearly 5,000 firefighters operating 500 engines are currently assigned to the blaze, which has been burning for 5 days now. In addition to CalFire personnel, firefighters from Santa Barbara City and County, Ventura County, OES, USFS and BLM are also on scene.

CalFire and other agencies have set up a
comprehensive website dealing with all aspects of the conflagration.

You can listen to fire command operations LIVE on ScanAmerica.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

California’s Wildfire Season Begins

SANTA BARBARA, CA. (May 7, 2009) -- California’s 2009 wildfire season has begun, with Mother Nature taking her first shot at Santa Barbara. The residents and firefighters along the “American Riviera” find themselves doing battle once again with wind-swept flames and dense smoke.

Named the Jesusita Fire, flames are quickly surrounding Santa Barabara, which just last November experienced the Tea Fire, which consumed more than 200 homes. In mid summer of 2008, the Gap Fire threatened thousands of homes, while burning nearly 10,000 acres

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, 70 fire engines from 14 strike teams were fighting the fire, including squads that were stationed at individual homes. The County of Santa Barbara said that another 20 strike teams had already been requested. The flames were within a mile of the closest structure and officials feared that massive power outages might occur.

Dry, off shore winds were whipping the flames up canyons and hillsides and a definable firefront developed within hours of the first calls to 911 operators.

Jesusita Fire Map

“The wind is unpredictable right now.” said Battalion Chief Pat McElroy. “Our biggest concern is a shift to down canyon winds, which would move the fire toward the city.”

McElroy added that statewide mass mutual aid had already been requested.
Even with winds gusting to 50mph, three were quickly helicopters were placed in service and air tankers were making their way to the scene.

On Wednesday evening, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara City and County. The emergency declaration placed 20 more strike teams totaling about 1,300 firefighters on the road to Santa Barbara.
Overnight, Three Ventura County firefighters were burned fighting the blaze, according to Capt. Ron Oatman of the Ventura County Fire Department. He said they were injured while attempting to protect structures. Their injuries were first and second degree burns and the firefighters were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

As of 0630 on May 7th, 500 acres had already been consumed, with fire officials indicating 0% containment. A Red Flag warning was in place as early morning wind gusts of 50mph pushed the blaze into neighborhoods. According to KSBY-DT, A Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman says more than 5,400 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. Nearly 14,000 people are estimated to live in those homes.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Wilmington Layoffs Will Endanger Citizens

Layoff Trend Hits Home!

WILMINGTON, DE (May 6, 2009) -- The national public safety hit list hit home this past week, when Wilmington, DE Mayor James Baker announced layoffs of firefighting and police personnel. How Baker tagged the fire department is somewhat fishy but a story worth sharing.

Just a few weeks ago, Local 1590, the Wilmington Fire Fighters Association and the city agreed on a new contract, after the fire department had been working without one for over 2 years. The members received slim raises, but there was comfort knowing that the city fire department would finally be working at authorized staffing for the first time in nearly 20 years.

In the meantime, Chief Willie Patrick, CFO and his administrative staff had labored diligently to cut nearly $800,000 from the department's 2010 budget at the Mayor’s request. They presented the plan to Wilmington City Council last week, who had questions and asked for clarifications, but suggested no changes.

Rolling Bypasses

The biggest money saver for the city would have been Patrick’s concept of “rolling bypasses”, which would close a single company for the day, if it were understaffed due to vacation or illness. Overtime personnel normally fill those positions, but since the mission was to drastically reduce overtime pay, bypass was fair resolution. It was a win-win-win situation for everyone – the citizens, city government and the firefighters, since staffing would remain the same and there would be no company closings.

Then, last week, Mayor Baker announced the layoffs, claiming that Local 1590 would not agree to freeze their newly authorized wage increase. His announcement came as a shock to the firefighting community, since he made no reference whatsoever to raise freezes just days before while the city and union were hammering out a settlement.

Incredibly, no one came to the firefighters’ defense, and the local newspaper, the News-Journal, did nothing to report on the impact of such layoffs to city residents. Well, since the News Journal didn’t feel the need to report the bad news, here it is.

Probable Scenario

I’m told that at least, 20 Wilmington firefighters will be fired– and the city's job hackers will be going back through the past three recruit classes to find enough firefighters to axe. Some of these brave men and women have invested 10 years on-the-job, and will soon lose their health benefits and payments into the pension system.

With 20 members gone, somewhere in Wilmington, a company will certainly be closed down. In the most logical scenario, the closure will likely be Rescue-1, which responds to every alarm in the city providing fire scene rescue, auto extrication, water rescue, high-angle rescue, technical rescue and hazmat mitigation. Rescue-1's closure will have immediate ramifications on emergency response and deny city residents the same level of protection that the smallest neighboring volunteer companies provide on a daily basis.

Historically speaking, when Wilmington shuts down a firehouse or closes a company, it never re-opens again. In the last generation alone, the city has lost four companies and two stations to cutbacks, none of which have ever come back online.

Expect 30 firefighters per shift

Unfortunately, Mr. Baker’s layoffs will do absolutely nothing to help fix the overtime problem, so Chief Patrick will still need to initiate the rolling bypass concept. There will be days when this city of 75,000 plus will be protected by as few as 3 engines and 2 ladders, or some combination thereof.

In order to fight a working fire, the WFD will be calling on neighboring volunteer companies more and more often to provide Rapid Intervention Teams, cover-up companies, even suppression units during large scale blazes. The volunteers are barely handling their own load, especially during the daytime hours, and are now be told to back-up their career colleagues with NO compensation whatsoever. The city receives pro-bono firefighting services by relying on an age old mutual aid agreement.

However, for those of you who recall layoffs and closings in Camden, NJ about 10 years ago, South Jersey volunteers and the City of Philadelphia FD were being called into Camden several times each week to handle an endless wave of arsons. But after a year, the volunteers got wise to Camden's ways and stopped responding, as did the City of Philadelphia -- and one could only watch as Camden burned, burned and burned some more.

Just a few weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden emphasized that city, county and state fiscal woes “would not be borne on the backs of public safety personnel.” Evidently Joe’s friend, Mayor James Baker, and so many other public officials, didn’t tune into CNN for that speech.

"I find it difficult to comprehend that an elected official would endanger his constituents and end the careers of so many dedicated firefighter/EMT's based on retaliation." said Michelle Jones, a resident of the 40 Acres section of the city.

"The mayor is pointing the finger of blame at the firefighter's union,' she added, 'when in reality, it is his (Baker's) decision alone that will soon place the citizens of Wilmington at risk."

Update: On May 7, 2009, President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign commitment by proposing a huge funding increase for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, which has been the IAFF's signature program. The extra funding is being made available to career departments in order to keep firefighters in firehouse, not the unemployment line. A portion of these funds could be directed to the Wilmington Fire Department, if someone would simply apply for the assistance.