Union: Lancaster, PA, Firefighter Cuts Could Have Consequences

July 5, 2024
Next week, the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire will take on-duty staffing from 13 to 11 to help curb overtime costs.

Jul. 4—Lancaster's firefighter union is criticizing the city's decision to cut back on the number of on-duty firefighters as a response to budget constraints.

Beginning Monday, Lancaster City Bureau of Fire lowered the number of firefighters it keeps on duty from 13 to 11 to save on overtime pay. The union chided the decision in a Facebook post later that day, accusing the city's administration of lying to firefighters last year when it said staff numbers wouldn't be affected by the closure of Station 6 on Fremont Street in the city's southwest quadrant. In the post, Lancaster Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 319 also expressed concern for public safety as a result of the change.

"(The union) understands the City is in financial constraints and we have done our part for the last ten years. The staffing issues must be addressed and there needs to be a plan and path forward. Without this we could see the same results we saw in 2013," union President Geoff Stone said in a statement Wednesday, referring to two separate fatal fires 11 years ago that happened when the department was "understaffed at the same low levels then as we are now."

Mayor Danene Sorace said staffing levels have not been affected by the change and was disappointed in the union's post implying so. There have been no layoffs, she said, and the bureau has remained at 69 firefighters since she began her tenure in 2018.

Over 80% of the bureau's overtime budget has been spent for the year, $370,000 of $450,000, and Sorace said the move down to 11 on-duty firefighters will help. City firefighters often have to work overtime because of a policy that allows eight people on duty to be out on paid time off at a time.

Sorace said finances haven't been a major issue in the past because of a decadelong agreement with the union that firefighters would receive regular pay for overtime hours worked. That agreement ended at the beginning of this year, and firefighters began receiving overtime pay.

Sorace and fire Chief Todd Hutchinson said they do not anticipate the change affecting public safety.

"I think my commitment to public safety has been clear," Sorace said. "(Fire) is the only bureau in the city that hasn't seen any reduction in staffing."

In the statement, Stone said the union was unable to include a staffing number into a collective bargaining agreement and that 11 on-duty firefighters is not adequate to address the public's needs. He said a minimum of 15 firefighters are needed for standard row home fire calls.

Hutchison couldn't give specifics for the ideal number of firefighters on duty, saying it fluctuates each day, though he said most calls are handled by the people on duty. The city relies on mutual aid from nearby departments for major fires, he said, like many other departments across the country.

"It's not financially feasible to staff for anticipating major fires every day," Hutchinson said.

Sorace said there are no layoffs planned for public safety for the year, meaning both fire and police. However, she said that could change in 2025 given the city's fiscal challenges.

Lancaster is facing a $10 million deficit in 2025 that would require a mix of tax increases and staffing cuts. City officials are currently creating two budgets to prepare for the adoption or rejection this fall of a home rule charter. Under home rule, the city would be able to increase income taxes, an ability currently restricted by the state; without it, the city would need to raise property taxes.

Sorace said both budgets will be introduced to the public in late September or early October. Voters will decide in the November general election whether to adopt home rule.


(c)2024 LNP (Lancaster, Pa.)

Visit LNP (Lancaster, Pa.) at lancasteronline.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!