Council grills Fire Commissioner about plans to transfer firefighers next year

City Council grilled the Nutter administration about its plans to rotate nearly 300 senior firefighters to stations throughout the city starting next year at a hearing Tuesday.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers spent more than two hours defending the plan before a doubtful group of Council members at a Committee on Labor and Civil Service hearing. The plan to rotate 293 firefighters who have worked at stations for more than eight years was announced earlier this month and is set to begin in January and occur annually.

“None of this makes any sense,” said Councilman Jim Kenney. “When I explain this to current (fire) commissioners and former commissioners, no one has said that’s a great idea.”

Ayers said that the rotations would help broaden firefighters' experience, especially for those looking to move up the ranks, by introducing them to various parts of the city, neighborhoods with various needs and levels of demand. He said the city has less fires compared to previous years and the rotations will help to ensure firefighters are prepared.

Kenney and other members said their offices conducted research that showed no other major cities have mandated transfers.

Union leaders called the administration’s plans dangerous. “It’s not done anywhere in the country,” said Bill Gault, head of Firefighters’ Union Local 22, adding that this should be bargained. “It’s going to remove the backbone of these companies. It’s going to cause civilian injuries.”

Gault says the planned transfers and the administration’s appeals of a recent firefighter arbitration award show a lack of respect for the union. (Last week a Common pleas judge upheld the firefighters’ arbitration award.)

Deputy Chief James Bonner said chief officers in the Fire Department were not notified of the administration’s plans. Ayers said they were.

Council members Cindy Bass and Denny O’Brien asked for research and studies that show the potential impact of such transfers. But the administration had no studies that showed how transfers worked in other cities.

Ayers said the administration would consider some of the concerns raised by Council, but the transfers will go into effect starting next year.

“Something stinks about the whole thing,” said Councilman Mark Squilla. It’s frustrating as a Council person, what ability and authority do we have? Where do we go from here?

Kenney said he was not sure what Council could do to stop the transfers from happening adding that Council may be able to take legal action.