Wednesday, 14 January 2015
Already under-staffed, Union agrees to additional reductions
By Matthew Lowery, East Pierce Firefighters IAFF Local 3520
10:51 AM PST, January 14, 2015
On January 5th, your East Pierce Firefighters Union approved a memorandum of understanding that will reduce staffing even lower, eliminate special hazards response capabilities for 6 months, and keeps positions unfilled for at least another year. Its a tough situation to be in, but overall the savings negotiated will save the Fire District an estimated 1.5 million dollars in 2015 and will reduce salary for some employees almost 10%.
In early 2012 the Union negotiated a contract extension that extended the agreement to the end of 2015. Later on in 2012 EPFR management determined that the tax payer funding structure would not be enough to continue business as usual, given the already low staffing, and the need for additional firefighters, firefighter training, vehicle and building maintenance. The EPFR Administration as well as the Fire Commissioners ran and voters approved a 2 year Maintenance & Operations Levy in 2012. Funding for that measures was set to expire at the end of 2014. EPFR Administration and the Board of Fire Commissioners placed on the ballot in August of 2014 an extension and increase of the M & O Levy that would have allowed for the Fire District to hire 12 more firefighters, therefore, improving staffing, and lower the amount of overtime needed for daily staffing. Unfortunately it was rejected by the voters as it needs a 60% super majority to be voted in. It received a simple majority of 55.9%. This caused the EPFR Administration and the Board of Fire Commissioners to place a reduced levy, an extension of the current amount on the November ballot of the same year. Again, voters rejected that measure failing to garner the 60% super majority, but again receiving a simple majority of 56.3%. The reason the simple majority fails is due to an article in the Washington State Constitution that states excess levies for Fire Districts are required to have a 60% super majority, although this article does not require the same for School Districts or taxing jurisdictions known as "Regional Fire Authorities". Having this measure defeated twice, the EPFR Administration and Board of Fire Commissioners had to reduce the budget, and start to bridge the gap in funding that would be left by the failure to renew the levy. This levy is said to account for 14% of the total EPFR budget. Your East Pierce Firefighters wanted to be a part of the solutions, and therefore entered in to negotiations with EPFR administration.
During negotiations, there were multiple disputes and issues regarding the actual amount of money needed savings, and the ways to get to an agreeable answer. The EPFR Adminstration wanted to lower staffing even further, thus resulting in what are known as "Brown Outs" to emergency response. This would have taken response units out of service for a day in various regions of the Fire District. The Union felt that this was NOT an option given that we are already severly understaffed when compared to national safety standards. NFPA & Washington State law state that in order to effect a fire attack and victim rescue at a structure fire, there needs to be at least 3 firefighters on scene. Currently in East Pierce, all but 2 fire response units are staffed with 2 firefighters and often times those positions are filled using overtime because of the low staffing. Meaning firefighters have to wait for additional people to arrive at the scene when fire attack and rescue is needed. This takes an already dangerous situation and makes it even more unsafe, for both citizens and firefighters. The Union was able to craft an agreement that saved money, and kept all units in service, however, reducing staffing for all units to 2. No units will be taken out of service. This agreement also reduces overtime to practically zero, with estimated savings of $875,000.
Many positions of the Fire District have been left unfilled or not replaced as employees retire. An additional part of the concessions agreement leaves the Assistant Chief or Prevention position unfilled. The work will be given to the other Assistant Chiefs to complete. This will save the Fire District approximately $165,000 in 2015. In the last 4 years, the Fire Districts full time employees have gone from a high of 131 to the current number of 123. 6 firefighter retirements that have not been replaced have also contributed to staffing issues. These positions have been left unfilled to facilitate financial savings from continued budgetary issues following the housing bubble and the "Great Recession".
EPFR also provides emergency responses for hazardous materials emergencies, wildland fire emergencies, water rescue emergencies, and for emergencies involving specialized rescue such as high & low angle rescues, trench, collapse, assorted rope rescues. Many of your EPFR members are cross trained to perform these specials functions of emergency response. In order to provide for a highly functional and organized response, EPFR created teams that can deploy and initiate help to these emergencies while still receiving assistance from other highly trained firefighters and police responding from other Pierce County organizations. The members of EPFR who are picked for these teams receive additional compensation for providing these services. In an effort to save money, recognizing that these emergency responses will still be requested of our members, the Fire District and the Union agree to eliminate any additonal pay or funding to these teams and team members for 6 months in 2015, saving the organzation estimated $200,000. Emergency responses for these type of incidents will still have our members dispatched, however Pierce County teams will be called in earlier to assist. Unfortunately there may be delays in responses for these events. Statistically they make up about less than 1% of the total alarms we respond to. Members will continue to train as best they can while on duty. Again, this is additional training these members perform including their regular fire and EMS training.
The final cost savings identified were through firefighter pay. The current firefighter pay scheduled via contract to take effect in January of 2015 gave firefighters a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 2%. The firefighters felt the need to give back part of this contractual obligation as it made sense to sacrifice some wages to help ensure financial stability of the organization. This COLA was negotiated in early 2012 to take effect. The Buearu of Labor Statistics reports our regions economy grew by 1.7% in 2014. The firefighters concessions agreement will eliminate this contractual COLA for 11 months of 2015, essentially reducing it to 0.16% COLA for 2015. East Pierce Firefighters make a comparable wage to firefighters from other cities and towns in the Puget Sound region. This agreed to concession will save the Fire District an estimated $261,000 in 2015.
We also felt the need to ensure that the critical training we are able to give to the kids of East Pierce county in the form of CPR classes was critical. So although the money was eliminated from the buget for firefighters to perform this training outside of their normal working hours on overtime, it was agreed upon that a civilian employee of the Fire District could take on this work and ensure it continues for 2015.
EPFR spans over 152 square miles, serving approximately 88,000 citizens in 4 cities, 1 town, and a large portion of unincorporated Pierce County. It protects urban, suburban, and rural properties. Geographic issues such as Lake Tapps, and roadways being not in straight lines due to geology creates a unique response challenge for EPFR. Historically Fire response units are in the area spread out to cover large portions of populations with fewer factors determining there locations. East Pierce County presents certain challenges to that because of those various examples given. Fire Stations are spread around Lake Tapps, they are centered on Hills, and they are positioned near highly accessible arterial routes. Our region is growing. Its only expected to increase its growth given the increasing speed of the economy. These factors will contribute to the need for more fire stations, and firefighters than a normal flat, and highly paved region would neccesitate. Its a reality of our area. Therefore its hard, but not impossilbe to draw similarlities with other fire service organizations. Our Union will continue to work to do well for the citizens and our members.
Our membership is very proud to serve the citizens of Milton, Edgewood, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, Prairie Ridge, West Buckley, South Prairie and all the areas in between. We will continue to look for financially reasonable ways to better serve you. Thank you for all of your continued support. If you have any questions please contact us at President@iaff3520.org.
Friday, 19 December 2014
PRESS RELEASE: RE: FIRE FIGHTER LAY-OFFS - 18 December 2014
By Matthew Lowery, East Pierce Firefighters IAFF Local 3520
1:13 AM PST, December 19, 2014
It is sad and disappointing that the fire district has taken the drastic step to lay off 7 personnel one week before Christmas. This is a situation that did not have to happen. We have offered the fire district 1.3 million dollars in wage, contract and working condition concessions and the district has made the choice to reject that offer and lay off personnel instead. At a time when we are already severely understaffed, this only makes the situation worse and puts citizen and firefighter safety at risk. This year the department has spent more than 3 times what was budgeted on overtime, laying people off will only make that situation worse and cost even more money. We have a strong track record of giving concessions when the district is having a hard time financially and this year is no different, for whatever reason, unlike in years past, the district has rejected all of our offers to help. We are willing to try and find a solution to the problem that allows everyone to keep their jobs, and we hope the fire district feels the same.
IAFF Local 3520
Monday, 1 December 2014
The traditions and the changing times. Santa Run 2015.
By Matthew Lowery, East Pierce Firefighters IAFF Local 3520
10:06 PM PST, December 01, 2014
Every year for at least the last 30 years, the firefighters from the various areas that now make up East Pierce Fire & Rescue have put on the annual event called the "Santa Run". This event was started by the volunteer firefighters and then was carried on as the areas grew and transitioned to full time career firefighters.
The "Santa Run" consisted of firefighters driving Santa around on a fire engine, playing holiday music, lights & sirens blaring and handing out candy canes to the people we serve. Many citizens have numerous memories of this event, and even planned family gatherings around it. Our Union members who put this event on donate their time, money, and invite their own families, many who have also made it their own tradition to participate in this yearly event. Unfortunately, the way most people know this event, it must now change.
The writing has been on the wall for a few years now that the logistics to bring Santa on a fire engine, to as many streets, neighborhoods, and complexes as possible, its getting harder and more difficult to do. In the past the firefighters would deliver Santa to as many neighborhoods in the areas of Milton, Edgewood, Sumner, Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake, Prairie Ridge, South Prairie, and all the places in between that East Pierce Fire & Rescue serves. It would take almost all members volunteering their time, and the entire month of December all the way up to the Saturday before the Christmas Holiday in order to ensure the events happened. Higher call volumes, more citizens, larger areas to cover, and scarce resources has lead to us making a change that we hope will be the new tradition we can transition too. Instead of bringing Santa on the fire engine around all the cities, towns and neighborhoods, we are going to have Santa at a fire station near you on a set day, set time, and of course with candy canes, opportunities for pictures and smiles. As always, the firefighters will continue to do our best and participate in the localized city events, such as tree lighting ceremonies, the Sumner Bridge lighting, and the various parades. This event is important to us, and we hope that you will understand, and help us to start a new tradition.
If you have feedback on this event, or any others that our members put on, please dont hesitate to contact us at President@iaff3520.org.
Here is the schedule for 2014's Santa Event at your local firehouse.
Dec. 7 Station 14 - NW Lake Tapps area, 3206 W Tapps Dr E, 1PM - 3PM
Station 15 - NE Lake Tapps area, 1605 210th Av E, 3PM-5PM
Dec. 13 Station 13 - City of Sumner, 800 Harrison St, 1PM-3PM
Station 11 - Headquarters/City of Bonney Lake, 18421 Veterans Memorial Dr E, 3PM-5PM
Dec 14 Station 12 - Prairie Ridge, 12006 214th Av E, 1PM-3PM
Station 16 - West Buckley/Foothills area, 10515 234th Av E, 3PM-5PM
Dec. 19 Station 19 - Town of South Prairie, 350 SR 162, 6PM-8PM
Dec. 20 Station 18 - City of Edgewood, 10105 24th St E, 1PM-3PM
Station 114 - City of Milton, 1000 Laurel St, 3PM-5PM
Saturday, 17 May 2014
Staffing and Why It Matters To You
By Mike Westland, East Pierce Firefighters IAFF Local 3520
10:17 AM PST, May 17, 2014
Staffing and Why It Matters To You
Do you know what level of staffing your fire department
provides and do you know why it is critically important? Every day East Pierce Fire and Rescue has 23
people on duty to cover 6 stations, approximately 152 square miles, and to provide
protection to over 87,000 citizens. EPFR
runs over 8,000 calls each year. The National
Fire Protection Association Standard 1710 states that we need 4 people per
engine. Currently, East Pierce Fire and
Rescue has as a minimum of 2 person engine companies. Clearly we are not meeting that standard. Regionally most departments run with a 3 person
minimum. Our goal is to increase our
staffing levels to a 3 person minimum so that we can provide better service to
What do all these numbers mean, in real life terms to
you? Under state law, if a fire engine
showed up to your house while it was on fire, and you or a loved one was
trapped inside, we could not come in and rescue you because we only have 2
personnel on site. We would have to wait
for an additional crew to arrive. When
you consider that fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, the time it takes us
to get an effective force on scene is critical.
Being understaffed is risky for the citizens we are sworn to protect,
and is risky for the firefighters that are tasked with putting fires out.
There are other considerations besides structure fires as
well. When you look at the above
numbers, you can see that we are spread very thin in order to provide coverage
to our district. Emergency medical calls
do make up the majority of our calls. It
is common in our district to have multiple calls going on at the same
time. The fewer people we have on duty,
means we need to send multiple units to get the right number of people to
handle the call. That means the likelihood of the closest unit being available to help you is decreased. When you or a loved one is having a serious medical
issue, time is critical. Getting to the
scene with the right number of people as quickly as possible is important. Even a simple medical call takes 4 or 5 personnel
at a minimum.
Please watch the attached video; it further illustrates the
need for adequate staffing. As always,
if you have any questions, please ask. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuhMbdpH1sw
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