Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Fire Fighters Union IAFF 1071 are at odds over what the city calls ‘dynamic staffing’ - a new policy that allows the fire chief to temporarily close a firehouse when staffing gets low; the union says it could endanger residents and firefighters.
When Rochester Fire Department’s Engine 1 was temporarily closed on July 1st, it sparked protests among firefighters and concerned community members. Deputy Mayor James Smith sparred with neighborhood leaders at a standing room only emergency meeting at the Lyell Avenue Library Monday night.
Warren says she was out of town on vacation as all this happened but she has been up to date on this issue. She says she brought up the topic numerous times in the past including during last month’s budget sessions. She says the union’s protests are overblown.
“I think that it’s a bunch of fear mongering,” said Warren. “You have a fire chief who put this on the table that has actually grown up through the ranks, and became a fire chief. Who put this on the table because it has been going on in the City of Rochester for years.”
She says dynamic staffing is a decades-old practice that happens often during the day for training purposes. But the firefighter’s union denied that claim in a statement on Facebook.
On Monday night, Union 1071 Vice President Amy Ruffo said the union did not know about the policy until this year’s budget was proposed in May.
Warren says one option could end dynamic staffing immediately - if the union allows retired firefighters or volunteers with a commercial driver’s license to drive protective trucks. Warren said protective truck personnel don’t fight fires but they do help clean up fire scenes. She called out union President Eddie Santiago for refusing this offer.
“They have a solution right now,” said Warren. “That’s 100% in Eddie Santiago’s control. That he chooses not to exercise. He chose not to exercise it. If he chose to exercise it, I’d gladly accept it.”
Ruffo said that Santiago is out of the area dealing with personal matters. He’s expected to return on Thursday.
Smith says this is one of multiple possibilities on the table, another would be tapping some of the healthcare reserve fund that is available for all of the city’s unions. Smith says there’s more than $40 million in that fund. He says that that process is complex but worth a try.