Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Local News

May 4, 2014

Fire shift manning decrease contested

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — By Monday, the City of Lockport should be notified that it is barred, at least temporarily, from imposing reduced minimum shift manning at Lockport Fire Department.

The Lockport Professional Firefighters Association obtained a temporary restraining order from state Supreme Court on Friday, according to union president Kevin Pratt.

The restraining order applies to a directive by the city Fire Board that reduced minimum manning to seven firefighters per shift from nine and ordered certain equipment — the city’s second ambulance and LFD’s ladder truck — taken out of service, effective May 1. The directive also reduced ambulance manning to two firefighters/paramedics from three.

A restraining order does not take effect until the city has been notified by the court. That had not happened as of mid-Saturday, according to deputy corporation counsel David Blackley.

The fire board ordered reductions in minimum manning and LFD fleet usage after Fire Chief Tom Passuite warned that, at present staffing levels, the department is on track to rack up about $1 million in overtime expenses by the end of the year. The Common Council budgeted $500,000 for all of 2014, and as of April the department had used up $200,000 of the allowance.

LPFA’s Pratt cried foul over the reductions, saying they violate the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city — the parties already agreed in writing, in 2009, to minimum manning of nine firefighters per shift — and firefighters’ safety is endangered.

If the restraining order bars the city from implementing any part of the fire board’s directive, including decommissioning of the second ambulance, the cash-strapped city will have no other immediate means to rein in fire overtime spending, 4th Ward Alderman Pat Schrader said.

The overtime tab started rising sharply after seven firefighters were laid off at the beginning of the year. Thirty seven firefighters are assigned to one of four platoons that work alternating 10- or 14-hour shifts. When minimum manning is set at nine and there are not nine men from the activated platoon on duty, the minimum is met by calling in firefighters from other platoons on overtime. Reducing shift manning thus reduces the likelihood of needing overtime call-ins.

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