Wash. Firefighters Protest Battalion Chiefs Cut

June 19, 2013
Yakima firefighters say a proposal to cut battalion chiefs from the staff puts them at risk and makes the department less efficient in responding to emergencies.

June 19--A move by Yakima firefighters to block a proposed staffing change by taking the issue directly to the City Council backfired Tuesday night.

More than 20 firefighters showed up to protest the city administration's proposal to cut the fire department's battalion chiefs, saying that the move would put them at risk and make the department less efficient in responding to emergencies.

Yakima Mayor Micah Cawley cut off Jeremy Rodriguez, president of the firefighters union, saying that he was raising staffing issues that had to be taken up during collective bargaining. A bargaining meeting is scheduled for early July.

"When it comes to issues of bargaining ... that's the city manager's desk," Cawley said.

Council members in general were reluctant to engage in the issue.

City Manager Tony O'Rourke is responsible for negotiated labor agreements, which the council then votes on.

But the firefighters were raising issues of public safety, not bargaining matters, Mike Wagner, the union's secretary, said. "You guys turned public concern into an issue" of collective bargaining.

"I don't get to come to a union meeting and discuss anything with you," Cawley shot back.

O'Rourke said that the adminstration has asked firefighters to share their concerns about the proposal, but hasn't received a response.

The firefighters union has tried to share its concerns but city officials haven't listened, Wagner said.

O'Rourke previously said that cutting the battalion chiefs would make for more efficient staffing and let the city hire more firefighters.

The department is staffed in 48-hour shifts, and each one has a battalion chief in charge of emergency responses.

Under O'Rourke's plan, the department's deputy chiefs would partially take on that role. The first company officer on scene would act as incident commander until a deputy chief arrives.

But that company officer has to be taken off an engine team, which limits what that team can do and slows down the response, Rodriguez said.

--Dan Catchpole can be reached at 509-759-7850 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/dcatchpole.

Copyright 2013 - Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.

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