Huntington Fire Department Narrowly Rejects Contract

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Huntington Fire Department Narrowly Rejects Contract

 Local 289 of the International Association of Firefighters has narrowly defeated a contract with the City of Huntington. Ray Canafax, president, told HNN the vote was 38-32 for non-approval.

" Our sticking point on the offer continues to be staffing levels are too low. 22 is simply an unsafe practice for our firefighters and for the citizens that we are sworn to protect."

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told WCHS TV:

"We made a fair offer in consideration of what they city can afford. This is the second contract offer that has been rejected this year by the firefighters’ union. I take the union at its word that it does not want a contract the city can afford. Its time to move on and focus on protecting our citizens and their property.”

Canafax said, "We are asking the city to continue negotiations to find an acceptable contract. I don't know how the city will respond on that request."

The rejected contract was the same one turned down in March 2017 with the exception of a BENNY card.

"This offer was the same offer we previously rejected. The only difference is they added the Benny card that we have been receiving since 2008, but it was never included in the contract," Canafax said. "We made a counter offer that had minor changes in staffing (23 minimum starting 7/1/17 and 24 minimum starting 7/1/18) but the city rejected it. We did not believe that was a safe staffing level either but we wanted to work with the city to get back to safe staffing level in stages. We want a contract that is affordable for the city but also provides safety for our firefighters and our citizens that we are sworn to protect."

Currently, only 22 firefighters are on duty to protect Huntington.

"With 22 firefighters on duty that leaves two trucks shut down daily (Engine 1 out of Station 1 and Tower 2 out of Station 2). This is completely beating up our resources. Run numbers were up in the 2016 calendar year by around 900 calls above our normal totals and the 2017 calendar run numbers are projected to be up even more than last year."

Based on current staffing and equipment, "We currently only have seven apparatus in service daily. Every time we have a structure fire in the city we send three engines, one aerial ladder and one rescue. This only leaves two engine companies to cover the rest of the city."

Since residents and firefighters have grave concerns on staffing levels, HNN asked Canafax a hypothetical --- given current staffing levels, what impact would occur if a fire similar to Emmons Jr. Apartments  which claimed nine lives took place. For the hypothetical assume all circumstances except staffing/equipment are the same.

Canafax responded:

"It is hard to speculate what would happen if another Emmons fire happened but keep in mind the current staffing levels leave us with only one aerial ladder in service in the city at any given time instead of the normal two (tower 2 is closed daily).

When Emmons happened we had both aerial ladders In service and still had to call for additional aerial ladders from our mutual aid companies." 

As to staff levels and overtime reduction which has since the cutbacks occasionally resulted in only 17 or 18 firefighters reporting, Canafax said, "Our firefighters are doing the best that they can to cover the overtime slots and ensure that staffing levels remain at 22. This has been occurring since the cuts in January. Our firefighters are getting tired and are not feeling safe working as much overtime as they are. We continue to hope that the city receives the SAFER Grant that was applied for so that the city will bring additional firefighters on the department which will cut down the need for overtime."

The fire engine sitting on a lot behind the University station is one that is used for parades, Canafax explained. "I believe it is the parade truck and is not staffed."

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