Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fire union disputes cost-saving plan

By Jennifer Edwards
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati's firefighters and Fire Department administrators are at odds again over staffing levels in the city's firehouses.

On Sunday, the city's cost-saving plan to let some firetrucks sit idle ended with a new plan. That plan allows the Fire Department to temporarily operate some firetrucks with three firefighters - one fewer than the minimum staffing levels the fire union negotiated in 1998.

Union officials filed a grievance Tuesday with Fire Chief Robert Wright, saying that deploying three-firefighter companies in 13 firehouses violates the union's contract.

The union asks for an immediate arbitration to resolve the issue. A hearing has not been scheduled.

"We are happy that the companies are open, but the way in which it was done created a violation of our contract," said Joe Diebold, president of Cincinnati Firefighters Local 48.

Assistant Fire Chief Bob Kuhn contends the department isn't in violation of the contract.

"There is a letter of intent attached to the contract that permits (this)," he said. "We believe we are following the letter of intent that allows us to go down to three-person staffing under certain situations for up to six hours."

The fire administration is misinterpreting that letter of intent, Diebold said.

During the so-called "brownouts," which started last month, the department idled ladder companies and engine companies at up to six houses every day.

The plan was to save some of the more than $2 million the department projected for a budget shortfall by year's end.

The brownouts saved money by idling companies instead of paying overtime to staff vacancies created by firefighters calling in sick, on vacation or otherwise unable to work.


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