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Case Argued by Megann McManus Mentioned in Watertown Daily Times, “Watertown Fire Department will Send out Heavy Rescue Truck Less”

Media Source: Watertown Daily Times

Two firefighters assigned to the city’s fire department heavy rescue truck are sent out several times a day on all kinds of calls, from helping out senior citizens injured in falls to victims suffering from heart attacks or are involved in a serious motor vehicle crashes.

But the rescue truck soon won’t be going out on quite so many calls.

City Manager Sharon A. Addison has agreed to a new directive that would mean the heavy rescue truck will be used on far fewer calls, Fire Chief Dale C. Herman confirmed Saturday.

Under the new deployment model, the two firefighters assigned to the heavy rescue truck will shift to fire engines. The rescue truck would then only go out calls for serious motor vehicle accidents and similar incidents, Chief Herman said.

“Details aren’t finalized yet,” he said. “We’re working those issues out.”

Last year, the heavy rescue truck was called out to 2,781 rescue and emergency responses, according to the fire department’s annual report. Some fire department critics have complained the vehicle is used far too many times for non-serious incidents.

For nearly a year, Chief Herman has been under the gun to come up with a new deployment model for staff, equipment and apparatus since the city demoted eight captains to firefighters last July.

The chief and Ms. Addison have been at odds about how to put into effect new Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, to make sure the fire department is adequately supervised during fires and other serious incidents as the result of the captains’ demotions.

Chief Herman unsuccessfully submitted the same deployment model to the city manager earlier this year. He was directed to submit another deployment model by a June 6 deadline. Department and city officials met on Monday to discuss the plan again and Ms. Addison agreed that it can be put into practice.

Under the plan, four firefighters will be assigned to each of the department’s fire engines. A battalion chief and three captains also will be working each shift, he said.

However, the new plan will not save money and it still calls for 15 firefighters to be on duty at all times, said Daniel Daugherty, president of the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191.

“There will be no cost savings whatsoever,” he said, adding he believes it also will cause “understaffing” and the union to file a grievance against the city.

If there’s a serious incident, two firefighters will have to jump into the rescue truck to cover those kinds of calls. The truck also will be deployed when “special” and “technical equipment” are needed, Mr. Daugherty said. The truck is equipped with EMS equipment, rope gear and items needed for hazardous-material situations.

The new deployment model comes up at a time when the city is in the midst of a nearly three-year contract dispute with the firefighters’ union.

The minimum manning clause in the contract — that stipulates 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times — has been the main sticking point in the stalled contract. The city contends that the minimum causes overstaffing, while the union argues it would be unsafe to eliminate it.

The 70-member firefighters’ union has been without a contact since July 2014. Meanwhile, the city and the union are still waiting to hear about an arbitration case before the state Appellate

Division, Fourth Department, in Rochester, regarding the eight demoted captains. The appellate court’s decision was expected on Friday but wasn’t announced.

On May 24, attorneys for the city and the union went before the appellate court for oral arguments to determine whether an arbitration case should proceed regarding the eight demoted fire captains. The city has fought against going to arbitration.

The appellate division could now announce the decision on June 30 or July 7.

Last week, the city’s attorney, Terry O’Neil, Long Island, and his law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King, lost a similar case before the Appellate Court, Second Department, regarding the village of Garden City, Nassau County, and its firefighters union, Mr. Daugherty said.

The village argued to issue a stay on an arbitration case against Professional Firefighters Association of Nassau County, Local 1588, about the way firefighters go on fire calls. The arbitration can now move forward.

Garden City wants to cut staff in its fire department.