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Batavia FIre Department

August 28, 2009 - 1:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia FIre Department.

City business, which is taxpayer business, should not be conducted in secret.

Last night, the City Council met in secret session to discuss a proposed settlement in an unfair labor practices claim with the local firefighters union.

It's a great deal, as we know it so far, for the firefighters, and probably well deserved and maybe even inevitable. It's possible that the best thing for City Hall is to settle this matter and move on.

But if not for a leak to The Batavian, residents of the City of Batavia would have scant knowledge that a proposed settlement was in place, nor the details of the settlement (we're confident the details provided to The Batavian are correct, but grant that we haven't seen an official document nor received confirmation from an on-the-record source).

We can only presume, then, that the city would charge ahead with a public meeting on Monday where the council could presumably vote on the settlement.

In such a rush to vote, where is the opportunity for public input? In the minutes before the vote? That hardly provides residents a chance to fully digest the agreement, let alone provide meaningful feedback.

If the vote is going to be Monday, the details should have been released to the public last night if not today.

City Council President Charlie Mallow says releasing the details jeopardizes the city's business and that the matter is still in negotiations.

Bunk.

It's clear the negotiations were wrapped up Tuesday.

And, what jeopardizes city business -- taxpayer business -- is withholding information from citizens. In environments of secrecy, it is when mistakes are made and elected officials wind up looking foolish for voting on things without giving constituents a proper chance to provide input.

In comments on the story breaking the details of the settlement, John Roach raises a number of important questions that should be answered before a vote.

This is a big issue. Eliminating the ambulance service was supposed to save the city money, but by putting off negotiations for two more years on overtime pay, by keeping four firefighters and guaranteeing no layoffs, and promising a 5 percent pay increase, by giving away $36,000 in bonuses, we have to wonder how much of the cost savings has just been given away?

Even if the settlement must be accepted, the public has a right to get answers to these questions.

City officials will argue that the closed session was necessary because it involved litigation and contract negotiations.

But there is nothing in New York's Open Meetings Law requiring elected officials to go into closed session on such matters. It's an option, but not a requirement. Nor are elected officials, as matter of law, prevented from discussing what happens in closed session.

City Manager Jason Molino and the City Council could handle this issue in a much more transparent manner if they so choose. But apparently, they want to get this matter put in the past with as little public input and possible.

(NOTE: Friday at 1:10 p.m. and so far no public notice of Monday's meeting.  We assume that's still the plan, but the clock is ticking according to New York's laws on public notice for meetings.)

UPDATE 5:04 p.m.: The city released this announcement at 3:23 p.m.

Please be advised that Batavia City Council will hold a special business meeting on Monday, August 31, 2009 to discuss contract and collective bargaining issues.   The meeting will begin at 6:00 pm in the Council Board Room at Batavia City Centre. 

August 27, 2009 - 7:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia FIre Department, ambulance.

Greg Ireland, fire union president, and Batavia City Manager Jason Molino have cut a deal after a marathon negotiation session Tuesday that will save some Fire Department jobs and put more money in the pockets of firefighters.

In exchange for several concessions by the city, the firefighters' union has agreed to drop its unfair labor practices claim against the city.

The Batavian has confirmed with two sources that the city has agreed to retain four positions that were slated for termination Monday, and to extend the current union contract -- originally ending in 2011 -- by two years, provide a 5-percent pay raise over the next two years and pay each member of the department a $1,000 bonus.

Additionally, the Sept. 1 staffing of 36 paid personnel will be retained throughout the term of the contract and not be reduced by either layoff or attrition.

Neither Molino nor Ireland would comment on specifics of the agreement (Molino spoke with WBTA this afternoon and would not confirm the settlement).

The City Council is meeting in closed session at this hour to hear for the first time details of the proposed settlement.  When reached this afternoon, City Council President Charlie Mallow said he had no insights into the agreement.

Both the union and the council would need to approve the settlement.

The need for a settlement arises from the city's decision to eliminate the city ambulance service. The union maintained that the decision to eliminate the union jobs and inevitably replace them with contract workers violated the Taylor Law.  The union filed its claim immediately after a county task force announced Mercy Flight as the preferred contractor for ground ambulance service in the county starting Sept. 1.

"The best solution for everyone involved, every one involved, including the city, the fire department and the community is to have a settlement in place before Sept. 1," said Ireland in a phone interview this evening.

Some people think Mercy Flight won't respond to calls in the city unless the city signs a contract with Mercy Flight, but Mercy Flight will be based in the city and Mercy Flight executives have said the ground ambulance service will respond to any calls sent to it by Genesee County dispatchers. But with a settlement, the city can sign a contract with Mercy Flight that will guarantee response times.

Ireland said the main reason to reach a settlement before Sept. 1 is just to ensure everybody can work together well.

"As we move forward, if there is a different ambulance service, then we need to continue to work with them as well because we're going to be on scenes together," Ireland said. "We need to be able to work amicably with everyone."

Many of the Mercy Flight employees will be former members of the city ambulance service. Fifteen city employees were hired by the Buffalo-based non-profit organization.

Under terms of the settlement, the EMS members who had their jobs eliminated will retain their unused vacation and comp time, holiday pay and earned longevity. Those stipulations appear to be items the laid-off workers would have received anyway. They will also get half of their sick time and one-month additional health care coverage.

AUDIO: Interview with Greg Ireland

UPDATE 7:50 p.m.: Council members came out of their closed session smiling and laughing but wouldn't comment on the settlement proposal. When asked what he thought of the settlement or if council would support it, a jovial Frank Ferrando said both times, "We'll have more for you on Monday."

Mallow said the council will meet in public session Monday, but stopped short of saying there would be a vote that night.

Molino only said "no comment."

August 18, 2009 - 1:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia FIre Department, IAFF Local 896.

With Monday's hot weather, city of Batavia Firefighters took to the water yesterday, according to a press release from the firefighters' union.

Firefighters conducted training at DeWitt Recreation Area on Cedar Street, where they deployed a 16-foot aluminum boat with a 6 hp engine and also rolled out Engine 12, which comes equipped with Coast Guard-approved life vests, rescue ring and several hundred feet of rope.

There are 58 acres of water (ponds and lakes) within the city's first-response area, and 2.75 miles of Tonawanda Creek, plus numerous pools.

"The rapid deployment craft is the most versatile piece of water rescue equipment in service with the City of Batavia," wrote Robert Fix II. "It is quickly inflated and can be used in many situations including open water (DeWitt Recreation Area),  swift water (Tonawanda Creek)  and ice rescues. It is particularly well suited for rescues at low head dams like the one located behind the county courthouse."

August 1, 2009 - 10:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia FIre Department.

batavia_fire_ladder460.jpg

This evening, City of Batavia firefighter Richard Stefaniak was riding high atop the city's ladder truck. He told me the view is great from up there.  He was testing the apparatus after some recent repairs.

If you would like to download a high-res version this photo, click here.

July 13, 2009 - 11:36pm

rose mary Christian.jpgWe need to check -- Has Adam Miller started selling backpedals?  It seems so. A few were put in use at tonight's Batavia City Council meeting.

Suddenly, the idea of taking a good hard look at converting the Batavia Fire Department to an all volunteer force doesn't seem as attractive to as many council members as it did May 26, when City Council President Charlie Mallow raised the issue in a fiery speech about the high cost of the current paid-professional service.

At that meeting, council members Marianne Clattenburg, Bill Cox, Bob Bialkowski and Rose Mary Christian all expressed support for looking more closely at the idea, with Clattenburg endorsing Mallow's call to arms with a hearty, "here, here."

Tonight, only Mallow kept the flame lit.

"I could foresee a problem with volunteers because of all the tall structures we have in the city," said Clattenburg. "I have real concerns if something disastrous happens."

clattenburg.jpgClattenburg said what she really meant at the previous meeting is that there should be some study on how the city can save money on fire service, such as looking at what cities of similar size as Batavia, with similar structures, do for fire service and how they keep costs down.

Christian, who wasn't quite as vocal in her support of Mallow's proposal in May, was more adamant in her opposition tonight to the idea of switching to an all volunteer force.

Christian made the repeated point -- disputed by Mallow -- that only paid professional fire fighters are trained in how to clear a building in an emergency, that volunteers are not allowed to get evacuation training.

"400 Towers is in my ward, and we have hospitals in the other wards," Christian said. "When you can prove to me that they have the training, then I can agree with it. Until then, I can't."

Christian also raised concerns about how quickly volunteers would respond, noting that current fire personnel can respond to an emergency anywhere in the city within three minutes.

When Bialkowski suggested that the City Council set some goals for what it hopes to accomplish with a reconsideration of the fire service, Christian interjected, "Goals are about money, and my goals are safety.  Money isn't always an issue."

And the theme was set for the discussion: This isn't all about money. We need to consider the safety issues as well.

"When we had that fire at Christina's, if not for the immediate response of the fire department, that whole block could have gone down," said Councilman Frank Ferrando.

Mallow reminded council members that terms of the current union agreement doesn't necessarily put safety first. Before any volunteer firefighter can be dispatched to a fire in the City of Batavia, all paid personnel must be called in, even if it means overtime.

"If we're going to talk about safety, let's really talk about safety," Mallow said. "Let's talk about these restrictions."

Mallow also said that there are bigger cities in New York, with bigger structures, that have all-volunteer fire departments.

"Just because we've always done it this way in Batavia doesn't make it right," Mallow said.

Council members are going to form a subcommittee to further study cost saving measures, including potentially coming up with a scheme to include volunteers with paid staff in a single department.

Christian (pictured top in file photo) is a candidate for a seat on the County Legislature and Clattenburg (file photo) is looking to move up from her Ward 2 council seat to a Council At Large seat.

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