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Firefighters' Jobs Spared; Others Not So Lucky

Firefighters' Jobs Spared; Others Not So Lucky

Phoenix Fire

Arizona Republic via YellowBrix

March 19, 2010

PHOENIX – It started with months of debate over firefighter layoffs, the fear of lengthier response times and the potential for tragedy. In the end, the Phoenix Fire Department avoided losing any first-responder jobs.

The budget process began late last year when the Fire Department anticipated cutting as much as $25.8 million, or 144 firefighter positions. The proposal would have eliminated three engine companies, two alarm-room dispatchers and other key public-safety resources.

Union concessions and projected revenue from the city’s new 2 percent tax on groceries saved nearly $14.5 million, which allowed the department to maintain those engine companies.

Civilian employees who cover fire-prevention efforts and others who take 911 calls will be impacted by the remaining $9 million budget reduction at the Fire Department, which forces fire officials to reassign or avoid filling 28 sworn positions.

Fire Chief Bob Khan and United Phoenix Firefighters Association President Pete Gorraiz, who leads the labor union, said firefighters unanimously approved 3.2 percent salary and benefit concessions over two years to save colleagues’ jobs.

Gorraiz said union members expressed a “willingness and desire to make concessions to save engines.”

He and other leaders argued for months that just one fewer engine, let alone three, would have a Valley-wide impact on the department’s regional response model. The system allows engines to infill for those in busier areas, which leaves gaps in coverage during busier times.

The final cuts eliminated 21 civilian positions. Union concessions helped save two emergency dispatchers in the alarm room, though one alarm-room supervisor was cut.

Jim Frazier, a communications supervisor who oversees alarm-room staff who dispatch calls for 26 Valley communities, wrote in a letter to the Phoenix City Council that the elimination of his position could have an adverse affect on emergency response times.

“The elimination of a fire communications supervisor is just plain negligence,” Frazier said in the letter. “Doing so will potentially have irreversible effects and place lives at risk.”

“This will cause the dispatch center to run further below staffing standards and operate with a less experienced work force,” he said.