The mayor and fire chief met privately with firefighter union officials to discuss ways to come up with the $285,000 needed for upgrading the department’s radio equipment, but didn’t come up with any solutions.
Fire Chief Barry Finley had proposed July 24 the elimination of two of the department’s six battalion chiefs through attrition with the money saved to be used to improve the radio system. He said at the time that the reduction wouldn’t impact the safety of firefighters or the public.
But on Aug. 5, Finley completely changed directions and said he wouldn’t follow through with the plan, citing risks to firefighter lives and public safety.
Finley and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown met Thursday with leaders of the firefighters union behind closed doors to further discuss the issue.
Charlie Smith, the union’s president, said, “It was not an in-depth meeting. Basically just an open discussion about the most recent issues, concerns. Nothing has changed since the public meeting held last week.”
Smith added that the two parties will meet again, but nothing has been scheduled.
The existing digital radio system for the fire department hasn’t worked properly since it was purchased two years ago. Modifications have been made in recent months to make it work better, but there are still issues.
Finley had proposed the elimination of two battalion chiefs, through attrition – one is expected to retire in December and another in 12 to 18 months – with the savings going to make $285,000 upgrades to the radio system, including new antennas and other equipment.
The union objected to the reduction of battalion chiefs, with Smith saying the second battalion chief at the scene of a fire serves as the safety officer – understanding the layout of the scene and handling communications between the firefighters as well as dispatch. Without those positions, the city would put “lives in danger.”
The radio system was the subject of a grievance filed by the firefighters union earlier this year after two firefighters were injured. The grievance wasn’t resolved, and the firefighters union filed a complaint with an arbitrator over the issue. It’s expected to be in front of the arbitrator in September.
It would take six months for the Federal Communications Commission to approve two radio frequencies for the department to use, which wouldn’t be made until October.
Brown has said the city doesn’t have the money to buy the system and may look to make the purchase in phases, if possible.