The Executive Board of Bridgeport Firefighters Local 834 shares this commentary that centers on enhancing safety and training for city firefighters.
The Executive Board of Bridgeport Firefighters Local 834 would like to elaborate on the statements and content contained in the Connecticut Post article of Jan. 14. We hope to clearly state that our efforts are focused solely on improving the safety and training for firefighters, and improving our service to the residents of this city. From the first conversations about incident safety officers, our proposal has clearly been the most productive and cost effective. The resistance we have met has frankly been erratic and incomprehensible.
Indeed, even as Chief Brian Rooney expresses his grief over the loss of two Bridgeport Fire Department members on July 24, 2010, the members of Local 834 are still waiting for meaningful operational changes that will increase the safety of our members and of the residents of Bridgeport. During our recent contract negotiations, the local proposed transferring training officers from a Monday-Friday schedule and having one work on each of the four shifts.
Our proposal, relying on the re-assignment of currently employed personnel, has been rejected. Chief Rooney unilaterally opted to staff the safety officer position with officers hired on overtime each night and for each weekend shift, adding a burden of nine additional overtime shifts each week. This expense was borne by the taxpayers of Bridgeport from August 2011 until Dec. 28, 2012. It cost in excess of $300,000, a cost which would have been avoided if the chief had engaged in meaningful negotiations with Local 834. While this program was in place, the overtime safety officer responded until the on-call safety officer from the Training Division arrived. At that time the overtime safety officer would leave the scene.
Recently, Chief Rooney decided the overtime hiring was too expensive, and canceled it. Now, he has assigned the other battalion chief to respond as safety officer, a move he expressed as so effective since the most experienced officers on the department would be the safety officer. He neglected to mention what was stated in the article, that the second battalion chief has to leave if another fire is reported. This happened at a major fire last month.
And while he claims he wants the most experienced officers on the scene, he has directed the incident safety officer course be taught to all department officers. While Local 834 supports this professional development, Chief Rooney wants this so the officer arriving with the Rapid Intervention Team would be assigned as safety officer.
As was mentioned in the article, this divides that officer’s attention between the RIT functions and the safety function. If a catastrophe occurs, neither the RIT role or the incident safety role will be properly staffed at the most critical time of the emergency.
Our approach is almost cost neutral, since the on-call pay for the Training Division would be eliminated. Our proposal allows for evening and weekend training, which currently does not happen. Our proposal ensures the prompt arrival of a trained incident safety officer who will maintain continuity throughout an incident. Our current method could potentially mean three or four officers could rotate through the safety position at each incident. Finally, the union’s proposal re-assigns currently employed personnel, and commits them to immediate response around the clock.
Chief Rooney claimed our approach would “fragment” the training division. He fails to offer a coherent explanation why. His concerns could certainly be negotiated if he would articulate them in meaningful discussions. We have, and will continue to negotiate all reasonable concerns with our proposal. However, during the past year the chief’s position has changed many times.
On the 16th, 21 new firefighters were sworn in. These new recruits, hired in August, trained at the Connecticut Fire Academy, were assigned to the line fire companies last month. Eighteen of these positions have been funded for two years under a federal grant of $2,789,000. This grant was possible because the union aggressively pursued the city to amend our labor agreement and incorporate language that would place Bridgeport in compliance with the grant requirements. Had we not done this, the city would have been ineligible to apply.
This local is not at war with the city, nor are we attempting to achieve some empty, unproductive position for the Fire Department. This local has been consistent in our message to achieve a safer city and fireground environment at fundamentally no cost to the city. This has been resisted at every turn. It is our belief that our proposal is the most efficient, effective and least costly solution to this problem, and is the most meaningful step which could be taken following the loss of Lt. Steven Velasquez and Firefighter Michel Baik.