Firefighters union, mayor at odds over new fire prevention plan
The Windsor Professional Firefighters Association continued its fight against council-approved changes to the city’s fire department.
The union claimed on Wednesday that the city’s plan, already being implemented, puts public safety at risk.
“Our goal is to preserve public safety. Cuts to Windsor Fire and Rescue Service will reduce the level of service provided by the firefighters of Windsor,” union president Angelo Gertsakis said.
While Gertsakis admitted “nobody’s been laid off” he said the daily complement of 50 frontline firefighters jeopardizes the public’s safety.
He said the daily number of firefighters on staff has fallen from 57 in 2008 to 50, beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
“This is a cut in service no matter which way the story gets told,” Gertsakis said.
Mayor Eddie Francis called the union’s claims “propaganda” and “nothing but the union flexing its muscle.”
“The firefighters union has one thing in mind. They need to grow the ranks. They want to grow the ranks. Bottom line,” Francis said. “We won’t buckle by them having these news conferences and flexing their muscle.”
The mayor called the union unprofessional and unbecoming.
In October 2013, a provincial arbitrator awarded Windsor firefighters a 15 per cent retroactive pay increase and reduced working hours, from 48 to 42 a week.
“We’re on base with everyone else in the province,” Gertsakis said.
The reduction in hours was made at the union’s request of the arbitrator. The ruling meant the city had to either hire as many as 31 additional firefighters at a cost of about $3.6 million or overhaul the current deployment of firefighters and locations of fire halls.
Council unanimously chose the latter.
The union claims in a leaflet that "31 front line firefighter positions will be permanently deleted."
Francis said that's impossible since the positions never existed in the first place.
The mayor said council asked the union to come up with a restructuring plan of its own. He said it took the union too long and council had no choice but to implement its own plan.
"Propaganda is not a plan. I'm glad I didn't wait," Francis said.
Francis said under the status quo, 94,000 residents are underserved by fire and rescue. He said the new plan increases response time for 50,000 residents.
He said the city has added two full-time firefighters, will modernize fire halls to better respond and build three new fire halls.
Gertsakis claims that for an increase of seven cents a day, or $2 a month, taxpayers can maintain the current level of service.
Francis accused the union of dealing in “small numbers.”
He said the average resident pays $6.75 a day for property tax. Of that, he said, 83 cents is used to pay for fire services. Francis said adding 10 cents a day to that “is a lot.”
The union launched an online petition Wednesday, encouraging citizen's to speak out against the city's plan.
Former Windsor Fire and Rescue deputy chief Pat Burke, now retired, called on the city of Windsor put its plan on hold and asked it complete a “comprehensive risk analysis” of the plan.
“All of homes and workplaces today are filled with petroleum based products that burn 3-5 times faster and hotter,” Burke said. “Time is more and more important because of the content and construction in today’s home.”
Francis was quick to allege that when he was deputy chief, Burke signed off on a report calling for a reduction in the number of Windsor fire halls — from eight to six — in 1996. Francis held up the report as a prop at a news conference.