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City, Union Dispute Over Firefighter Shifts and Safety

1:18 PM, Jul 10, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - Just recently, Buffalo firefighters established new staffing rules that are called "dynamic staffing."

Under the old contract, the city had to pay off-duty firefighters overtime to cover staff shortages due to sick calls. Under the new contract, the city can re-assign personnel to cover sick calls by shutting down ladder or engine units at individual firehouses.

Tuesday morning's fatal fire on Riverside Avenue, shows that there is still a dispute over the contract the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Firefighters Union agreed to in May.

"This here is about money and money alone, if we're worried about the firefighters creating overtime for what?" said Buffalo Professional Firefighters Union president, Dan Cunningham.

The issue at hand, is when the city closes down a fire company for a shift, because too many firefighters called off for that shift. Right now, the policy says this can happen if five or more call off.

2 On Your Side pressed Mayor Byron Brown about the possible safety issues Tuesday.

"We feel it's safe, we feel it was negotiated with Dan Cunningham, the union president and the firefighters union and the city, it is in the new contract," Brown said.

Cunningham calls the practice that the city uses "Russian Roulette."

"We had to agree to things that we normally wouldn't agree to, I'm not backing down from that, but this was part of the deal," he added.

Cunningham says he reluctantly agreed with the policy -- after 11 years without a contract -- and thinks it can create a safety problem.

The safety issue could come about, if there's a fire in the city and the nearest firehouse has a company shutdown and it doesn't have the personnel to effectively fight the fire. Mayor Brown and fire officials say this was not the case in the Riverside Ave. fire Tuesday morning.

"It does not compromise fire protection in the city, the city would not have done it if that was the case and we're sure the firefighters wouldn't have negotiated it if that was the case," Brown said.

The fire union believes the city saves between $2 million and $2.5 million annually by not paying the overtime and shutting down fire companies.

Mayor Brown would not confirm these numbers when we spoke to him Tuesday outside City Hall.

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