NY settles lawsuit over volunteer firefighter use

The settlement guarantees that paid fire crews maintain four men on each engine that goes out on a call for the next five years

By John Asbury

LONG BEACH, N.Y. — Long Beach officials and the city’s paid firefighters have reached a settlement to avoid layoffs in order to move forward with a restructuring plan that includes paid paramedics and volunteers.

The Long Beach Professional Firefighters union, representing the paid firefighters, agreed to drop two of its lawsuits against the city, which planned to overhaul the fire department, in exchange for granting job protection for the existing 18 paid firefighters.

City officials began the emergency services restructuring in 2015 by contracting a $55,000 study of the operations by the Washington D.C.-based ICMA Center for Public Safety Management. It recommended the city reduce its paid firefighter force to 12 and add 12 paid civilian paramedics.

The study, which was heavily criticized by the firefighters union, concluded the changes would save the city $2 million and improve public safety. Firefighters said it would put public safety at risk by reducing the number of immediate responders to calls.

Long Beach and Garden City are the only paid fire departments on Long Island; other communities depend solely on volunteers and paramedics. Long Beach has listed a roster of about 150 volunteer firefighters, but the union contends not all volunteers are active or immediately available.

The city laid off five firefighters in December 2014 when a two-year $900,000 federal grant expired.

The lawsuit’s settlement, reached Jan. 21, also guarantees that paid fire crews maintain four men on each engine that goes out on a call for the next five years.

“It gives us some level of security,” union President Bill Piazza said Wednesday. “It takes away a little bit of the uncertainty of if we’re getting laid off or not, and there’s less anxiety in the firehouse. We have the ability to maintain services to the residents to the city.”

Piazza said the union has been working without a contract for nearly seven years and he hopes to carry momentum of the settlement to contract negotiations. Paid firefighters also agreed to adjust schedules to work more hours in order to reduce overtime and holiday pay.

City officials said the settlement allows the Long Beach to move forward with the restructuring plan, which led to the hiring of eight paramedics to respond to the majority of the city’s emergency medical calls.

“I’m happy we’ve reached an agreement with the firefighters union and they have stopped legally contesting our restructuring and reforms, which puts more certified paramedics and ambulances sufficiently deployed,” Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said Tuesday.

The fire union still has litigation pending against Long Beach over the city’s contracting with South Nassau Communities Hospital for an extra ambulance to respond in the city. The union claims that takes work from paid firefighters, while the city argues it would normally be handled by volunteers.

Copyright 2017 Newsday

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