Only Three Firefighters Voted to Approve Huntington Offer

Updated 1 year ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor

Only Three Firefighters Voted to Approve Huntington Offer
Members of Local  289 of the International Association of Professional Firefighters rejected the City of Huntington's contract offer by a vote of 75 (against) to three (in favor), according to Ray Canafax, president of the local. 

Canafax stressed, "The contract was not a good offer , and I'm not surprised by the outcome of the vote. Our major sticking point was the level of daily staffing that the city was offering us. 22 people per day is a dangerous staffing level and that was what the City offered us . 22 [firefighters] per day leaves us with only 7 trucks operating each day (2 trucks closed per day).

The local's last offer was similar to a modification suggested at the Thursday March 9 budget session before Huntington City Council.

"We offered multiple daily staffing options during the negotiations process with our last offer being to increase staffing to 25 in fiscal year 2018  (7/1/18), but the city refused," Canafax said.

"We have asked to get back to the negotiating table to continue working and have been told that the city has no interest in that."

Only Three Firefighters Voted to Approve Huntington Offer

During the budget session, Williams admitted, "We can't stay where we are."

Councilwoman Rebecca Thacker called HFD "one half of our safety nets."

Later, Thacker told HNN, "Williams does not seem care about the safety of the city. Lawoffs have not happened in police and fire since the Felington administration." Recalling the police layoffs then, she stated, the effects of the layoffs have not yet effected the city."

She detailed a choice made by Cabell County EMS. "They answered two drug overdoses and delayed a cardiac arrest," Thacker said, predicting police and fire layoffs will cause similar issues for those first responders.

Interim Chief Jan Rader told councilman Charles McComas at the session that "we bill for fire responses, if they are not residents," responding to an inquiry which would put HPD on part with Cabell County Emergency Medial Service which bills for the ambulance response.

Councilwoman Jennifer Wheeler asked for a number that would not shut apparatus. Rader said 25, adding that a staffing level of 106 is necessary to cut unscheduled Overtime, which occurs when scheduled firefighters , for instance, call in sick or with a family emergency.

Only Three Firefighters Voted to Approve Huntington Offer

In addition, the department has applied for a SAFER grant to re-hire the laid off firefighters. The city's 'match' if the grant is approved would be about $102,000.

Rader said receiving the grant will cut unscheduled OT.

Wheeler's proposal is to take funds from the unscheduled OT budget and utilize it for the 'match,' or in the alternative hire back at least two or three firefighters. 25 is the amount of personnel necessary to keep all trucks staffed. Newly hired firefighters cost (salary, benefits) about $60,000 a year.

"We could go to 23, so only one truck is down daily," she suggested, adding, "today (Thursday, March 9) , we were down to 20." Call outs were necessary to bring the shift to 22, which utilized unscheduled OT.

Wiliams stressed, "We have to staff as we can afford," he and Rader asked for a week to work on the wisdom of shifting HFD line item amounts to cover the proposal. He asserted that "the management of the department has to (properly) manage unscheduled OT," noting that previously "it ran unchecked."

He cautioned that "unintended consequences" could occur if the line items are shifted without research. "We might be able [to do that] by during more "squeaking, squealing and cobbling. I don't know where the $120,000 is ... we will come back (Thursday) with something."

HFD has 20 members eligible for retirement payouts in fiscal 2018. The budget provides funds ($400,000) for ten payouts

Unlike police OT which includes 'special events,' HFD does not have a ready revenue adjustment.  Many events requiring officers reimburse the city for police OT. Some 4K runs and Pullman Square events do not pay for police services. Council suggested (among others) utilizing lower grade officers, using less officers, adding more reserve officers (unpaid) and other volunteers.

Chairman Bates surmised that "if the state had not hit us [with the budget busting pension costs]  , we'd still have the six FF (laid off)."

Only Three Firefighters Voted to Approve Huntington Offer

During that session, neither administration, fire representatives, or council members informed the public that the FF contact had been turned down. The council proposal in part (by coincidence?) mirrors a counter proposal by the local.

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