City responsible for summer staffing shortfalls, not us, fire fighters say
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 4, 2014
Halifax’s professional fire fighters are refuting the city’s portrayal of vacationing fire fighters as the cause of summer staffing shortfalls, pointing instead to the city’s ongoing failure to promote enough fire fighters to fill the necessary officer positions.
The misleading assertion was made in the media earlylast week as the city tried to explain a recent agreement to take full-time fire fighters out of a number of rural stations until at least the fall and place them in other stations for 10.5 hours a day.
At the heart of the staffing issue is a shortage of fire officers such as captains, who are required in fire stations when full-time fire fighters are present. The truth is that the number of captains in the department has been plummeting in the past decade because the city refuses to promote enough fire fighters into those positions, says Jim Gates, President of the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters.
Gates points to figures that show there were 91 captains in 2006, but only 69 officers in the city in 2014 for the municipality’s fire stations, with three retirements pending. Meanwhile, 11 fire fighters have been on an eligibility list for officer positions since June 2012, but the city has not promoted a single one of them. And because of the staffing shortfall, fire officers worked 38,573 hours of straight time overtime last year.
In other words, the city has chosen to save money by paying straight time overtime and closing fire stations rather than maintaining the number of officers required to staff all of the city’s fire stations adequately, Gates says.
“The city manages the fire department, period. It’s their responsibility to staff the department with enough personnel to meet its contractual obligations, and to promote enough fire fighters into officer positions to ensure the level of fire protection the public expects and deserves, in both urban and rural areas of the municipality,” Gates said.
“We did the city a favour by agreeing to this temporary staffing situation, and they turned around and tried to sell the public a vision of vacationing fire fighters as the reason behind fire station closures. It was very disappointing,” Gates said.
Gates would like to see Fire Service Management acknowledge publicly that the city’s failure to maintain an adequate number of officers in the ranks is the true reason behind the summer staffing shortfall. While Fire Management acknowledged to Gates that vacation time was not the primary reason for the station closures, they refuse to make any effort to publicly correct the assertion.
Because vacation is based on seniority, proportionately more officers may be on vacation in the summer, but again, it’s the city’s responsibility to staff the department adequately.
Gates added he welcomes news that the city is planning an operation review of the fire service, especially if the city uses the opportunity to take real action to address chronic understaffing of the fire department that has plagued the city for years, needlessly jeopardizing public safety.
He points to an excellent series of articles by Kings College journalism students that appeared in the Chronicle-Herald in May that exposed serious gaps in the city’s ability to provide adequate fire protection, especially in rural parts of the municipality.
“The citizens of Halifax expect and deserve adequate fire protection, but the city is nickel and diming the fire department into the ground. It cannot go on any longer.”
Jim Gates, President
Halifax Professional Fire Fighters