Union Advises Firefighters Not to Go Into Damaged Johnstown, OH, Building

July 10, 2024
Voluntarily retrieving personal items for residents may violate the collective bargaining agreement, Johnstown IAFF officials say.

Some firefighters plan on going into the Realty Building Wednesday to retrieve some personal items left behind by residents who fled after an explosion in May. 

If they do, they're doing it on their own time. They'll be volunteering and won't be getting paid.

But, the local IAFF union doesn't want its members participating to help out residents before the building is demolished. In fact, they issued a statement saying they shouldn't.

"Our union’s number-one priority will always be our firefighters’ safety. Our professional members deserve safe working conditions and should not be placed in harm’s way unnecessarily. The true grit and character of our firefighters was shown the day of the explosion. To then, six weeks later, ask those same firefighters to ‘volunteer’ to risk their lives and livelihoods is inconceivable," Jon Racco, an IAFF official wrote in a statement to WKBN. 

Among their alleged concerns include volunteering jeopardizes and circumvents the collective bargaining agreement with the city, the building is unsafe, asbestos is present and if they get hurt, worker's comp may be an issue.

Fire Chief Barry Finley balked at the union's stance.

“It’s an extension of our job. We need to help those people, give them something to hold onto. I don’t agree with the firefighters union. I’m going in there tomorrow,” he said. 

Furthermore, Finley says investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and various engineers have been inside the building.

Mayor Tito Brown is impressed that firefighters are stepping up to help residents by saving some of their possession. 

“There are some standing up and saying they will go in there on their own time. This is what they do every day. So it’s up to the firefighters but the chief is going to do that as well,” Brown said.

He says the firefighters are the only ones who should be in the building.

“We applaud them. They’re saying, ‘You know what? This is a unique challenge.’ They’re trained to do this.”

About the Author

Susan Nicol | News Editor

Susan Nicol is the news editor for Firehouse.com. She is a life member and active with the Brunswick Volunteer Ambulance & Rescue Company, Oxford Fire Company and Brunswick Vol. Fire Co. Susie has been an EMT in Maryland since 1976. Susie is vice-president of the Frederick County Fire/Rescue Museum. She is on the executive committee of Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. She also is part of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) Region II EMS Council. Susie is a board member of the American Trauma Society, Maryland Division. Prior to joining the Firehouse team, she was a staff writer for The Frederick News-Post, covering fire, law enforcement, court and legislative issues.