Union criticizes decommissioning of engine during pandemic
The union said the elimination of one of the city's apparatus will increase response times and should be postponed until after the crisis
The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — After weeks of protests and motions from City Council trying to prevent it, Engine 11 in the South End has been decommissioned.
New Bedford Firefighters Local 841 sent out a statement about the closure on Sunday, highlighting the fact that the closure happened during a pandemic.
The statement said the closure adds to response times and reduces the level of preparedness that the city needs amid the current time of uncertainty.
"There is no other community in the commonwealth that is diminishing their response capabilities amongst this national pandemic," the statement said.
The statement also said that Mayor Jon Mitchell decided to reduce the number of first responders and apparatus available "during a time of need."
When Fire Chief Paul Coderre announced the decommissioning of Engine 11 he said no layoffs would result from it, which Mitchell reaffirmed when reached for comment.
"It is disappointing that in an effort to advance their contract negotiating strategy, the leadership of the firefighters union has sought to exploit the COVID-19 crisis by continuing to mislead the public," Mitchell said in a statement Monday, "Contrary to the union's assertion, the city has not reduced 'the number of first responders,' and the reality is that every square foot of the city, including the Clark's Point neighborhood, is protected by a level of fire coverage that vastly exceeds that in every one of our surrounding towns."
The statement from the union went on to cite funding opportunities the city could take advantage of during an emergency.
President Donald Trump used the Stafford Act to declare a national emergency, giving the federal government access to about $40 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Access to that money allows state and local governments to be reimbursed up to 75% for emergency protective measures, the statement says.
"With President Trump, Governor Baker, and Mayor Mitchell all declaring an emergency, this program is a tool for the City of New Bedford to seek federal and state funds to keep firefighters on the front lines to respond to residents calls for service while as a country we combat this pandemic," the statement said.
The statement ends by calling for a postponement of the decommissioning of Engine 11, "while we get through this pandemic."
"The union's suggestion that somehow the city could increase the number of available fire apparatuses by applying for federal emergency aid reflects a lack of appreciation of the city's financial liquidity in this time of uncertainty," Mitchell said, in his statement. "The city's focus right now is on stemming the spread of the Coronavirus, and we should not allow ourselves to get distracted by the fire union's scare tactics."
The decommissioning of the Engine occurred on the day it had been scheduled to happen prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.
In February, Chief Coderre announced the decommissioning of Engine 11 as a way to end the city's policy of blacking out one of the city's 10 fire companies on a rotating basis.
He said the policy was administratively cumbersome, generated overtime costs, and undermined firefighter morale.
When he announced the decommissioning of the Engine initially, Coderre said the city considered fully funding the department to end the blackouts, but it was financially unrealistic at an estimated cost of $2.7 million annually.
Coderre also noted that a public safety center would be opening in the South End in spring 2021.
The City Council has gone on the record asking the Mitchell Administration to reconsider the closure of Station 11 and Councilor-at-large Brian Gomes submitted a petition against the closure with over 1,000 signatures to the council on March 12.
©2020 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.