Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1469 Sun, 27 Sep 2020 17:45:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8455-city-council-fire-department-proposals-don-t-match-need-for-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8455-city-council-fire-department-proposals-don-t-match-need-for-reform mayorcommappleton

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Last week the City Council presented its response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It proposes to add $1.5 billion in annual operating expenditures and more than $1 billion in capital spending to the budget proposed by the mayor. Among the proposals are four that would significantly increase spending on the Fire Department and for which there is no clear justification other than political expediency. Two of them would not only be expensive, but would undermine provisions of contracts agreed to through collective bargaining.

First, the Council would add a fifth firefighter to 20 engine companies across the city. Most fire engines are staffed with four firefighters as is the practice in most fire departments across the country.

The 2015 contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) added a firefighter to 20 companies to be phased in over four years, in exchange for agreement that the absentee rate be kept below 7.5 percent. High absenteeism has been a problem at the FDNY, which contributes to high overtime expense.

The trade-off of adding staffing (and hence, new hires) while offsetting some of the cost through reduced absenteeism is exactly the type of mutually-achieved productivity measure that the de Blasio administration proudly touts as part of its approach to labor relations.

Yet last December, when the fifth firefighter was taken off the engines because the absentee rate rose over its agreed cap, the UFA complained vehemently. The mayor reinstated the staffing after there were media reports about the disagreement. Now, the Council proposes adding another 20 firefighters without any linkage to the absentee cap. The location of the engine companies to be increased and/or criteria for making these additions is not specified by the Council.

It is certainly true, as the Council notes, that FDNY call volume has been rising, but the calls are not for fires for which an additional firefighter to stretch out water hoses would be deployed, but for medical emergencies.

Less than 2% of all calls answered by the FDNY city-wide are for fires. The vast majority of calls are for some kind of medical situation. While engine companies answer most of these calls because they can get to them most quickly, they cannot administer most medical services or transport sick people to the hospital, so an ambulance usually must follow the fire engine to these incidents. Therefore, an additional firefighter does nothing to improve or increase response to the vast majority of fire engine runs as the Council implies.

The additional staff would effectively repeal a labor contract provision. Would the Council ever propose to legislatively overrule a contract provision that is regarded by a union as favorable to its interests? Doubtful.

The FDNY most definitely needs to rethink and reallocate staff to adapt to the fact that it has become primarily a medical-emergency, not a fire-fighting, organization. The last thing it needs is more staff who are not trained to administer to medical needs, hired to increase headcount and the number of UFA members. Not only should the mayor reject this proposal, he should direct the Fire Commissioner to re-institute the contractual link between the current five-staff engines and the absentee rate.

Second, the Council wants to add $17 million in capital funding to establish a third EMS station on Staten Island. But EMS runs for life-threatening incidents have grown less on Staten Island than in any other borough over the last year.

Nor is there justification for creating a $32 million firehouse in Hudson Yards. The UFA has been advocating for a station in this new neighborhood since work on the development began. There are EMS ambulances posted in the area and three fire stations nearby. All of the brand new buildings in Hudson Yards have the latest fire safety technology and there is no reason to expect significant increases in fire calls in the area, yet the Council and the UFA want to allocate 45 new permanent firefighter positions, adding more than $4 million to annual FDNY personnel costs.

Finally, there is a call to “re-evaluate public sector wages across the board and plan to correct disparities.” Among the “egregious” disparities noted are those of emergency medical service technicians and paramedics who earn less than firefighters. The Council calls on the FDNY to reset wage rates for its workers.

No cost estimate for this recommendation is included but raising all EMTs and paramedics to the same salaries as firefighters with the same years of service would cost an additional $67.5 million a year, plus an additional $10.5 million in additional costs for increased pension and payroll tax contributions, according to Citizens Budget Commission. This magnitude of expense should not be imposed outside the collective bargaining process, during which other issues like potential productivity offsets can be taken into account.

It is true that the lower salaries and higher workloads of EMTs compared to firefighters are contributing to relatively high overtime and staff turnover. The FDNY needs to be re-engineered to acknowledge and improve its primary function as a medical emergency service; simply paying EMTs and paramedics much more would just be a band-aid on a larger problem, and a very expensive one.

New Yorkers respect and appreciate the valiant service of our firefighters and our emergency medical service personnel. It is possible that some or all of the additional costs of the Council’s proposals could be offset by reducing unneeded, expensive fire stations, and bills introduced by Council Member Joseph Borelli to require ongoing evaluation of the impact of new development on EMS service would provide real data upon which to base future resource allocation decisions. But the Council’s reaction to changed conditions in its budget response is solely to spend more on everything.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5842-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5842-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday August 7

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others carry a symbolic casket as part of an anti-violence campaign, via Ross Barkan; Mayor Bill de Blasio and comedian Louis C.K., who was shadowing the mayor for two days, outside City Hall, also via Ross Barkan

adams casket barkan

BdB Louis CK Barkan

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Schneiderman Special Prosecutor Case: Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his first case as special prosecutor in police involved deaths of unarmed civilians would investigate the circumstances surrounding Raynette Turner’s death. [Read our in-depth look at how the new executive order shifts the relationship between oft-rivals Gov. Cuomo & AG Schneiderman]

2. Academic Integrity Task Force: After new allegations of issues with academic integrity at certain schools, NYC DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña is establishing a permanent task force that provides oversight and training to ensure all schools comply with “rigorous policies and standards.”

3. Legionnaires’ Outbreak: On Friday, the numbers stood at just over 100 people infected, with ten dead in the most recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, this one in the Bronx. New York City buildings with water-cooling towers have to “assess and disinfect the units within the next two weeks,” under Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett’s new directive. On Thursday Mayor de Blasio said that there would be “substantial action next week, legislatively.”

4. De Blasio Mental Health/Public Safety Initiative: On Thursday Mayor de Blasio announced “NYC Safe,” a $22 million initiative, designed to find and help people with severe mental health issues and violent tendencies. The initiative will combine clinical treatment and law enforcement to intervene before or after violence occurs. The plan is part of a larger “mental health roadmap” that First Lady Chirlane McCray will unveil in September.

5. UFA Contract Agreement: On Thursday the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which covers 8,000 firefighters and FDNY personnel, and the City announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement. The deal includes new disability legislation, a key point of contention in negotiations. According to the administration, 83 percent of the city workforce is now under contract, after the number was zero when de Blasio took office.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for firefighters, who agreed to a new contract with the city that will see pay rise by 11 percent over seven years, including retroactivity. There is also good news for the 8,000 or so members of the UFA in terms of engine company staffing and disability pension.

  • It was a bad week for Mayor de Blasio - according to a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating among NYC voters is at 44%, “the worst net approval rating of his tenure.”

THE FLASH:

  • About 125 years ago, on August 6, 1890, in New York, William Kemmler became the first person to be executed by electrocution. The alternative method would have been a hanging. Kemmler was shocked twice, the second time at 1,030 volts for two minutes, before he died.

  • About this time last year, August 7, 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced a public-private partnership that would allow the City to “unlock and analyze municipal decision-making information” from the City Record and publish the record online while signing new legislation into law. The City Record has daily info from the city on government procurement, public hearings, and hiring, among other topics.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:
All from a big Thursday evening:

  • New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he is voting against President Obama’s Iran deal.

  • The first Republican presidential primary debate was held Thursday evening.

  • Jon Stewart signed off as host of The Daily Show after 16 years. Watch his final episode here.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:27:06 +0000