Boston paper decides to take on the fire department again now that Ed Kelly is no longer union president.
First, read Lawrence Harmon’s Op-Ed piece, then Local 718’s reply here.
February 8, 2011
135 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, MA 02125
RE: LAWRENCE HARMON OP ED FIRE & POLICE ARE WORLDS APART
I am the President of Boston Fire Fighter’s Local 718, and writing in response to Lawrence Harmon’s Op-Ed “Fire and Police are worlds apart”.
Mr. Harmon suggests that firefighters all share the same “personality traits” which are apparently the polar opposite of the “personality traits” of police officers. Arriving at this conclusion based on an obscure study of police and fire recruits, which Mr. Harmon states the police scored “significantly higher” on “dutifulness” and “deliberation”. First, personality traits are by definition an individual characteristic. Mr. Harmon groups all of the fire recruits together attempting to draw the conclusion that they share the same traits. He uses these “traits” as the foundation for his entire article. However, it should be noted, police and fire recruits are not police officers or fire fighters. They are civilians selected to complete the training program. They only earn the respective title officer or fire fighter after completing their training and probationary period. If Mr. Harmon wished to determine the differences between fire fighters and police officers he would be better served to have questioned seasoned veterans of both timeless and honorable professions, of which in Boston there are more than 3000 sworn officers and fire fighters combined.
Mr. Harmon then suggests that Roderick Fraser is the “first civilian Commissioner” and that he was the first to implement psychological screening. Both statements are false. The Boston Fire Department has had a long history of Civilian Commissioners, most recent as Dennis DiMarzio who originally was appointed in 1996 as Boston’s Chief Operating Officer, and like Fraser had no firefighting experience. The Boston Fire Department also had psychological screenings years ago but abandoned the practice surrounded by rumor that the “tests” may have been being used as a means to pass over one qualified applicant for another.
Mr. Harmon then packs a number of concerns in one paragraph, which I will address individually.
Sick Time “Abuse”: prior to 2001, the Boston Fire Department never had sick time. If you were sick you had to swap with someone to work your shift. (Yes, I said swap) So statistics will show our sick numbers obviously are higher now than prior to 2001, because there wasn’t a mechanism for sick leave. I challenge that our numbers are on par with that of other city agencies if you compare shifts called out versus hours. (All other departments are charged 8 hours per sick call while we are charged 12). So by comparison if we and the police both had 50 sick calls in a month, the police would have accumulated 400 sick hours compared to our 600 hours for the same 50 shifts.
Injured Leave: The Department medical examiner (Civilian Doctor) has had the authority to place any member on injured leave on “light duty” status after 30 days thus minimizing the length of “injured time” a member is out for.
Pensions at Higher Ranks: This policy was initiated by the City during collective bargaining when they chose to use temporary assignments at the higher rank in lieu of promoting individuals. The City opted to pay “acting” as needed rather than pay for a full-time promotion. This policy has been changed as well as the State-wide change to pension calculations that has all but removed pensions at the higher rate for career-ending disabilities.
Drug Testing: We were one of the first fire departments to have Drug Testing for cause in the United States-going back some 30 years. We are not new to Drug Testing. As our arbitration concluded, every other city agency received some form of compensation for a change in working conditions to include random Drug Testing. Yes, we did receive compensation for this. In exchange the City received arguably the most comprehensive, completely random, drug and alcohol testing procedure in the entire City. One that we are proud to be part of, and has been on-going since this past summer with hundreds of tests randomly conducted, (with some members tested as many as 5 times each) all with negative results.
Command Staff: Mr. Harmon continues on his misguided mission to pit fire fighter against police officer by suggesting that our Uniformed Command Staff is ineffective simply because they are members of the same Collective Bargaining Unit. (Local 718). He further states that Chief Officers “point to the contract and shrug” when issues present themselves. I challenge that does not make them ineffective managers, it only demonstrates their commitment to honor collective bargaining. If the contract deals with a specific issue; it has been addressed by the City negotiators on behalf of the Mayor and Tax payer at the bargaining table and our Fire Chiefs honor that decision.
In conclusion, Mr. Harmon suggests that our work schedule and ability to “swap” shifts provides, as he suggests “communal meals and camaraderie”, however, apparently he feels that this is a bad thing. He suggests this “camaraderie”, offers the opportunity to “feed off each other’s grievances and contemplate how to wring the most out of the system while working second jobs”. Further suggesting all of his concerns would magically disappear if we would just work more days a week in the firehouse. The simple conclusion to his entire satirical commentary: “it would be a better department if firefighters worked the 8 day shifts and 8 night shifts each month called for in their contract instead of bundling the job into 24-hour packages”, despite the fact that most fire departments in the country work 24 hour shifts.
The members of Local 718 and my Executive Board are reasonable men and women. Our goal is to provide the residents of Boston with the best Fire Department while ensuring our members have the very latest in training, apparatus and safety equipment. For a journalist to simply paint the more than 1400 members that I represent with a slanderous broad brush simply demonstrates, as Mr. Harmon has suggested, nothing short of lacking journalistic “dutifulness and deliberation”.
At the end of the day, we must be doing something right. The continued assault on Boston’s fire fighters by the Globe and its student reporters conveniently ignores the single most basic of firefighting statistics. With our fast response time and aggressive firefighting tactics we suffered only 2 fire deaths from a single incident last year, and none in 2009. I challenge you to put those statistics up against the national average, or city of similar size and population. [bold mine]
Boston Fire Fighters Local 718 IAFF
Note: Look for more detailed writing about firefighters, personality tests and “firefighter mentality” – both the good and bad, this year at Backstep.
All comments must include your name or the name of your department. Either one, it makes no difference. If you don’t, well we can do nothing for you.