Fire Union Leadership Claims Resistance To Safety And Training

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.

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4 comments

  1. I wish Bridgeport Firefighters Local 834 the best with their fight for the Safety And Training for its members. Bridgeport Firefighters Local 834 dropped the ball when they said nothing when Fire Chief Rooney’s contract was signed, the money they are seeking was there but Mayor Finch gave it to Fire Chief Rooney. I have enclosed the posting from Bob Walsh in which Bridgeport Firefighters Local 834 should have fought for.

    Troll On A Roll–Reconsider Police And Fire Chief Contracts

    January 2nd, 2012 · 8 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, City Council, Cops, Firefighters

    Former City Councilman Bob “Troll” Walsh has been sharpening his teeth the past few days in letters to his old mates. Does the “Troll” miss the council action? The latest letter urges his City Council representatives Evette Brantley and John Olson who replaced Walsh when he decided to retire in 2011 to pull back “questionable” contracts recently approved for the police and fire chiefs. Walsh’s letter:

    I am writing my City Council representatives requesting that one of them make a motion to reconsider the recently approved contracts for the Police Chief and Fire Chief. And that the other one second the motion.

    I have to assume that neither of you were aware of many of the facts that I have learned since the contracts were approved because if you had been I do not believe that you would have approved such questionable deals.

    One report that I read said that the Fire Chief will be making in excess of a quarter of a million dollars a year between his salary and pension; all paid by the taxpayers of the city of Bridgeport. And this does not include benefits. This is obscene and outrageous in a city that claims to have such severe financial difficulties that it could not increase its funding for education for the past 4 years.

    But first and foremost the council must reconsider the matter at the first meeting immediately following the meeting in which the item was approved. Do not buy into anyone suggesting that this would not apply to labor or personnel contracts. Robert’s Rules Of Order does not recognize such exceptions and therefore the motion would be in order. All that you need to do at the present time is to refer the matter back to the contracts committee.

    Among the troubling facts are:

    1) At a minimum the Fire Chief has requested retirement and I believe he has done so as a disability pension. I have been told by several retired firefighters that when they first applied for a disability pension they were told that they needed to submit medical proof of the disability. I believe that Chief Rooney was not required to do so because his is a technicality. Technicalities lead to lawsuits and the city of Bridgeport can ill afford any more of these. The council should be provided a formal written legal opinion from outside legal counsel clearly addressing this matter.

    Among the questions are:

    1) What are the consequences if the fire chief sustains additional disabling injuries or diseases while on the job having already been granted a pension?

    2) Can the chief waive protections granted him under state workers compensation regulations?

    3) What is the city’s liability as to having to pay out additional benefits to others who were denied this benefit now being extended to the chief?

    4) What are the future consequences of granting a disability pension without proof of disabling injury or medical condition?

    2) What is the cost to the taxpayers of this contract and the practice of collecting a pension early based on which pension plan the Police and Fire Chief are covered by?

    3) The original contract provided to the Police Chief had a residency requirement included while the Fire Chief did not. The council decided to eliminate this language for the Police Chief. I urge my representatives to reinstate that language for the Police Chief and to insert the language for the Fire Chief.

    I truly anticipate your motion to reconsider. If you decide not to do so then I would appreciate in writing an explanation as to why you refused to do so. I am copying the other council members so that one of them might take this action if the two of you do not.

    Sincerely,

    Robert S Walsh
    Taxpayer 132nd District
    56 Redding Pl
    Bridgeport CT 06604

  2. Ron–This current issue has very little to do with the fact Chief Rooney is collecting a pension and salary. While the members of Local 834 were as surprised and upset as everyone else when it happened we did not see it as a threat to the lives and safety of our members.
    The current issue of Incident Safety Officer is an entirely different story. This union proposal was in response to a recommendation of the NIOSH report on the line of duty death investigation of Lt. Velasquez and FF Baik. The union’s proposal is a very comprehensive and well thought out plan which can and will provide a significantly enhanced safety and training component to the job.
    In fairness, it is my understanding if it weren’t for Mayor Finch and his staff the incident safety officer proposal would have never even gotten a chance to be implemented. The ONLY resistance the union has gotten on this issue has come from the chief of the department.

  3. park city fan, what I said does have something to do with what is going on now. Money is money and in NO way should the fire chief be allow to collect his pension and still hold his job with benefits. This has never happened in the fire department history and money is money and the union’s voice was never heard on that issue, right is right and wrong is wrong. I understand what you are saying but you need the voters and taxpayers to know what is wrong, now all of a sudden there is a problem with training and safety and you tell which is more important, Rooney’s financial gain or firefighter safety? Will the statement from firefighters local 834 appear in the Connecticut Post or on ch.8, will there be a press conference and a rally to ask for support for firefighter safety, I doubt it but I truly hope I am wrong because there is nothing more important than the safety of our firefighters and you say it is not that important to the chief.

  4. Ron,
    I respect the strength of your resistance to wrong behavior and activity, especially as it regards individuals in leadership roles.
    I also have listened more than once to OIB critics who stress “less is more.”
    Regarding both influences, the phrase you might use if you like to address this or any such issue in the future is: “THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO A WRONG THING!” The PR folks will not like that statement though it is true. Time will tell.

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