News Column

Time ticking on firefighters' futures

August 25, 2014

By Rick McCrabb, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

Aug. 25--MIDDLETOWN -- The fate of 15 Middletown firefighters will be decided in less than one week.

That's how long the members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 336 have to decide whether to accept the city's Memorandum of Understanding that would keep 11 firefighters from being laid off and save four other positions set to be eliminated through attrition. Earlier this month, the city extended the deadline for an agreement from Aug. 16 to Aug. 30.

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins said if there is a time problem it's "solely on the union end."

At last week's City Council meeting, Adkins announced a tentative agreement with the union, but as of the end of last week, the union hadn't voted on the agreement.

Greg Justice, president of the union, was asked about the contract and he said "nothing new" had happened. When asked another question about the negotiations, Justice cut off the interview. "I have nothing to say today," he said Friday afternoon.

Middletown Division of Fire Chief Steve Botts has refused to talk, referring all questions to the city manager.

Adkins said when the city budget was passed in November 2013 and 11 firefighters were set to be laid off this year. As a result of that budget, he said, preparations were made for layoffs and a change was made to "first emergency first" (FEF) to "better operate under the reduced staffing level."

Under the FEF, each fire house would be equipped with a medic unit and a fire truck, and the firefighters would take whatever piece of equipment was needed for the specific emergency calls.

He said the city has made "every effort" to accommodate the union's needs as they have been presented. But, he said, each accommodation has been met by further demands, new to the discussion.

If layoffs occur and the city is required to make FEF its standard operating protocol, the union must accept "complete ownership" of that decision.

The MOU, if signed, is intended to last for two years, according to a copy obtained by The Journal-News. Through the agreement, the city will be allowed to hire full- and part-time firefighters without "blowing up" the budget, maintain current service levels and to begin building additional flexibility and capacity for the future, Adkins said. If the city doesn't receive a SAFER grant, which will help pay for some of the firefighters, the MOU will be terminated, and firefighters could be furloughed at the discretion of the city.

The terms of the tentative agreement depend upon the city applying for and receiving funding in the next round of SAFER grants. The application period for the grant is expected to begin in November 2014 and awards are expected in the first half of 2015.

Adkins said there are 26 full-time firefighters, those who work 51-hour weeks, who are eligible for retirement over the next five years. When those positions open, Adkins said, "cheaper" firefighters will be hired, which will save the city money and allow it to concentrate on other areas, such as paving roads.

Justice said those firefighters will be less experienced than those on staff.


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Source: Hamilton Journal News (OH)

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