[quote]Northampton firefighters claim salvage duty is unfair
By DAN CROWLEY
Staff Writer
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
NORTHAMPTON - Work to salvage an elderly man's belongings after his roof collapsed under snow this winter is the subject of an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the Northampton firefighters union.

While the union says such work falls outside their job description, city officials liken it to salvaging the possessions of city residents whose homes are ravaged by fire or flooding, which firefighters do regularly.

"I don't see it as any different," Mayor Clare Higgins said. "This is a salvage operation. This is an elderly gentleman in desperate need of help from the city."

Meantime, the city faces another complaint filed by the International Association of Firefighters Local 108 over the transfer of money in April from the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services fund to cover overtime expenses in the department, which the City Council approved. The money in that fund is generated by ambulance revenues.

The latter grievance was denied by Fire Chief Brian P. Duggan in May and is now before Glenda Stoddard, the city's human resources director. Depending on how Stoddard responds, the matter could move to arbitration.

The complaints come as the mayor negotiates a new contract with the firefighters union, which is the only union not to opt into a new health insurance plan for the next fiscal year. The union is working under a contract that expired a year ago.

"There's often more grievances when we're in the middle of negotiations," said Higgins, when asked whether the two complaints might be driven by difficult labor talks.



Laurel Park operation

The roof of John Masloski's red, two-story home in Laurel Park caved in under the weight of snow in February and city officials later ordered the house demolished for safety reasons. Masloski, 77, lives in Florence and his Laurel Park home, while uninhabited for years, contained many of his belongings.

Duggan dispatched a crew of four firefighters to the scene Feb. 24. The union says the firefighters were "ordered" by the city to help remove personal items from Masloski's small house and put them into a U-Haul truck. They say they shouldn't be doing that work, according to a complaint filed with the state Division of Labor Relations.

Northampton Firefighter Michael Hatch, president of IAFF, Local 108, could not be reached for comment, but the union's complaint states the city "changed the job duties" without providing notice to the union or an opportunity to negotiate, "and thereby bargained in bad faith." Timothy Belcher, an attorney representing the union in the labor complaint, could not be reached Monday for comment.

The demolition project cost Northampton approximately $15,000 as Masloski did not have homeowner's insurance or the financial means to pay for the work. At the time, Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said the city would try to save many of Masloski's possessions, which included old tools, a hand-carved cigar store Indian, an antique Dr. Pepper sign and an old record player. The salvaged items also included an unused Whirlpool washing machine that Masloski won in a contest years ago.

"The building commissioner asked if an engine company could assist, which I assigned," Duggan said. "They were there for the demo and could be pulled away" in an emergency.

Duggan said he viewed the task as "protecting property and salvage," something firefighters do routinely.

"The (firefighters union) sees it as a change in the fabric of what their job description and role is," he said. "The city's perspective is it's salvage of a person's property who really needed assistance. I share the view that this is a project of saving someone's property as we do with fire, flooding, etc."

The City Council last Thursday transferred $2,500 into the city's Legal Services budget, funds Higgins said are directly related to defending the complaints filed by Local 108.

EMS funds

In a separate complaint, the firefighters union alleges the city wrongly used $60,000 from the Fire Department's EMS reserve or ambulance receipts fund to pay for an overtime deficit in the Fire Department. The union contends that money should be spent only for operating and maintaining the department's emergency medical services.

The union points to an article in its contract, which states: "In order to successfully develop EMS within the Northampton Fire Department, the city and union agree that all (EMS) receipts and budgeted surplus will be transferred and held in an EMS Reserve Account." The union is requesting the city pay back the money immediately, its complaint states.

Higgins said the city did not have the cash on hand to pay for Fire Department overtime, which is historically underfunded at approximately $90,000 but hits about $300,000 per year.

Duggan said the Fire Department estimated it would take in $1.56 million in ambulance revenues this year, but that figure is expected to top $1.9 million.

Higgins said it was a tough year financially and she had to use the money with little to no free cash or rainy-day funds on the city's books to pay for the Fire Department's overtime deficit.

Duggan said tapping the EMS reserve fund means less cash will be available in the future to pay for EMS equipment and ambulances, however. He denied the union's grievance on several grounds.

"It's something that clearly was not well received by my people, but it's a decision that was made and implemented," Duggan said. As for city councilors who approved the financial transfer, several said that EMS funds can be used for any lawful municipal purpose, including paying for Fire Department overtime.

"I don't know what they would be complaining about this for," said Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy, who serves on the Finance Committee.

Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy, who serves on the Public Safety Committee said this: "I'm assuming they don't think it's going to be transferred and held forever, or reserved indefinitely."

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.[/quote]

[b]The roof of John Masloski's red, two-story home in Laurel Park caved in under the weight of snow in February and city officials later ordered the house demolished for safety reasons. Masloski, 77, lives in Florence and his Laurel Park home, while uninhabited for years, contained many of his belongings.

The demolition project cost Northampton approximately $15,000 as Masloski did not have homeowner's insurance or the financial means to pay for the work. At the time, Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said the city would try to save many of Masloski's possessions, which included old tools, a hand-carved cigar store Indian, an antique Dr. Pepper sign and an old record player. The salvaged items also included an unused Whirlpool washing machine that Masloski won in a contest years ago.[/b]

Click on the video link to this story.

My humble opinion.... the only reason to enter this structture was to search for victims. As a command officer, the thought of putting someone into a house that was abandoned abandoned decades ago with a structural collapse that caused its demolition  to look for "stuff" compromised the safety of the personnel of the Northhampton firefighters.

PS: I know Chief Duggan. He used to be the Chief in the town of Northborough.

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Maybe it is just the union "thug" in me, but I agree with the union grievance here. There is a difference in salvage operations of a property already damaged by nature causes and one that is on fire or damage "must" be done in order to prevent further damage.

What I mean here is it is a completely different scenario when responding to a "smells and bells" call, finding a haze indicating a fire and there is a chance to cover belongings etc prior to pulling ceilings etc. Along the same lines is a difference in having crews able to put tarps up, create water chutes, etc prior to overhauling etc to ensure a fire is completely out.

Whereas what we see here is the fire dept being predisposed as a moving company and or reclamation company due to nature and/or deteriorated construction. It is not the fire depts job to "fix" a situation after the fact, salvege in the fire service comes in during the incident, not to be called in later. Such a mindset and ordering opens a can of worms to any type of natural disater that the fire dept will come in and be a moving company, restoration company, or any other private type of business that depends on such disasters for work. This is a waste of emergency resources.
Why not just offer the guys off duty to come in on overtime and do the work?
Why not let Public Works do it?
Why not hire a company experienced in demolition do the work.
Why not bill the homeowner for the expense?
Why not take the property under eminent domain?
Why not just push the whole thing down, scoop it up and take it to the landfill?
Why not have the police department stop by and lend a hand?
Why not take all the town hall REMF's and make it a field trip?
Who is better trained and equipped to recover property from a collapsed building though?
A company that specializes in building demolition; they typically have the engineering and practical knowledge, experience, manpower and most importantly, they have the proper heavy equipment.

Wait...aren't you always saying that we shouldn't be going into burning buildings if there's no life safety issue involved?
A company that specializes in building demolition; they typically have the engineering and practical knowledge, experience, manpower and most importantly, they have the proper heavy equipment.

Good point- blonde moment, wasn't thinking logically like that!!!! :-)

Wait...aren't you always saying that we shouldn't be going into burning buildings if there's no life safety issue involved?
But it's not burning, and with the right equipment, training and time on your side, a collapsed or partially collapsed building can be made a hell of a lot safer than a burning building.
with the right equipment, training and time on your side, a collapsed or partially collapsed building can be made...safer
Right, so how much time (time=money) is needed to perform this operation? And making a building "safer" is the best we can hope for when entering collapsed buildings to search for victims, I'm not sure that "safer" is the best situation to rescue a store front wooden indian, an unused washing machine or old hand tools. Seems frivolous to me.
Another point I'll bring up is that salvage is for the protection of property from operations that the FD has to do to mitigate the emergency. In a case like this, after the fact and due to a natural disaster, then that is what insurance is for. Such operations are not the job of the FD.
What make me side with the local:

Building has been unoccupied for years.

Owner does not live in the city, has no insurance and said he does not intend to reimburse the city.

Appreciate that hundreds of dwellings collapsed this winter in the northeast.

captfiremedic at IACOJ.com says that the structure is in a community with a private road, most of the buildings are uninsulated summer cottages built in the 1930s.

Mike
I can see both sides of this one. You make a persuasive case, Mike. On the other hand, it's easy to spin this negatively against the FD - not necessarily what we want when people are using any excuse to try to slash FD budgets.
I see both sides of the fence here.

In one hand the fire department has traditionally responded to calls for help to save life AND property, and we always roll, no questions asked. This particular instance is tough.

Its not someones main residence, its a summer home barely used if at all. If this were his home, and we were asked to get valuables like file cabinets with birth certificates and important documents, family jewelry passed down through the generations, clothing to wear, and other VALUABLES than I would do it. But lets face it...A carved wood indian??? A Dr. Pepper Sign??? Things he has not used or even cared about obviously in years is pushing it and I would not risk anyone for that. Sorry, but if you like stuff that much insure it and protect it better.

A line has to be drawn when it comes to firefighter safety, and risking a few firefighters to save a wooden indian just doesnt set well with me. I have been known to pull pictures off the walls during a fire and stuff them in couch cushions, take small file cabinets and take them out, even grabbed a few trophies off a shelf once and brought them out with me to get a new air bottle and that made the owner smile, but these items in this summer home are not too valuable if they are left there and forgotten and un-insured. I rent an apartment and still have renters insurance on my valuables.
I wouldnt have done it, I feel for the guy and am sorry that he lost his summer home full of stuff, but its not safe practice to send firefighters into harms way for a pile of collectibles.
Stay Safe everyone.
I am with you on this Ben. Either way you look at it, it is a tough position.
The issue with catering to any beckon call and "customer service" for the sake of PR or to garner "brownie" points for budgets can have negative affects as well, especially when deviating away from the mission of the fire dept. At the core of police and fire is emergency services, what we have in this case is not an emergency, there is no life threat involved and the FD is being used as cheap labor under the guise of "salvage".

At the same time about worrying about PR and how this could be spun to negatively affect the FD, at the same time, why worry about it? After all the same spin can be turned around against such actions. The FD can quite simply state that this gets away from the core service of the mission of emergency response. It can also be turned towards an issue with encroaching on private business and services.

Politicians (any level) is typically about puckering up to the business owners, these are the entities that create jobs and bring in money to the economy, correct? So why would they look to utilize a tax-based public service for a private business matter? You see how the tables can be turned here? The question can thus come up as to why an individual needs insurance then, because the public taxpayer based entity will just do the work under the guise of salvage.

What the FD did here was correct, they followed orders and responded and then filed the grievance. This is overstepping the boundries here and using, let alone risking, FF lives for property in a non-emergency situation. We have a private structure with no emergency needs for FD to operate there. So under the guise of salvage the FD is sent into a structure which has been collapsed for some time, there can be any sorts of hazards inside from animals to HAZMATs, and you are sending emergency workers in for personal property.

Meanwhile, if being used a a collapse aspect, this means that the operation can not just be easily stopped and broken down so the FD can respond to other calls. So now you are thus risking the lives and property of other taxpayers for the personal property recovery of another individual. Doing personal recovery that is outside the scope of the FD's mission and doing the job that a private business should be doing and what insurance is paying for. Such a spin can have a bigger impact on the other taxpayers, whose service is now compromised for an individual's property, as well as the encroaching on private business can trump the "fear" about worrying about FD budgets.

Yes budgets are tight, which is even more the reason to maintain the core services, if not scaling back. You don't see a private company that can no longer afford say an R and D dept and cut it, and then expand beyond their operations just for the sake of kissing ass will garner more votes.

Customer service is about being professional, being friendly and being cordial in the couse of the job. It is not about kissing the ass of anyone and everyone just because you may think it will expand a budget. Part of customer service is to also say no and to also step back, just because it is customer service, doesn't mean that one has to go beyond their scope of service. In a sense it is like asking for a pizza to be delivered and then ask the delivery guy to pick up your dry cleaning on the way over.....could he do it? Probably, would it be considered good customer service? Sure....Is it beyond the scope of the mission? ABSOLUTELY. Customer service is also about knowing when to say NO, that is what the union is doing here.

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