Posts Tagged Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois

Public Duty Doctrine in Illinois (more)

Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

The group representing firefighters and municipalities hopes to revive a law that protects first responders police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel from getting sued by people they try to help.

The so-called public duty rule dates to the 1800s and provides firefighters and paramedics broad immunity from lawsuits stemming from their on-the-job actions.

But earlier this year, a divided Illinois Supreme Court struck down the public duty rule when it took up a case involving the 2008 death of a Will County woman who had called 911 while home alone after going into cardiac arrest and later died.

According to a lawsuit her family filed against the East Joliet Fire Protection District, paramedics arrived at home of the 58-year-old woman, but when she didn’t come to the door they decided not to force their way in because police were not present. The responders firefighters eventually returned and entered the home after the woman’s husband came home, but by then 41 minutes had gone by since the initial 911 call. The lawsuit alleged that the delay in providing emergency care to the woman contributed to her death.

The lawsuit was initially dismissed but was eventually appealed to the state’s high court.

In sending the case back to the lower court, justices said in part that the public duty rule is confusing and misused. They also noted that another law, known as tort immunity, provides first responders emergency personnel similar protection against lawsuits. But tort immunity is more limited in that it doesn’t apply to willful and wanton conduct, meaning intentional wrongdoing.

Two groups representing firefighter unions and mayors seeking to get a public duty law on the books in Illinois are worried that its absence could open the door to frivolous lawsuits that will cost municipalities — and therefore taxpayers — money to get such legal claims dismissed in court.

A bill proposed in the Illinois Senate, first introduced in February, would bring back the public duty rule, though it has yet to be heard in a committee.

The public duty rule “protects public safety employees who need to be doing a service, not worrying whether or not they’ll be getting sued,” said Brad Cole, Illinois Municipal League executive director. “This has been common law for 160 years. We’re not reinventing anything new.”

The philosophy behind the law is that “public entities owe a duty to the public at large, and not any one individual. This meant that first responders could prioritize their responses based on available resources without the fear of lawsuits when a service didn’t meet expectations,” according to joint release on the bill from the Illinois Municipal League and the Associated Firefighters of Illinois.

But Chris Hurley, president-elect of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association — a group that opposes the bill — said the public duty law wrongly protected first responders public safety employees from being sued for misconduct, and the court was right to strike it down.

“As a society, we don’t want this,” he said. “You want a situation where there’s no consequence for willful and wanton misconduct? That can’t be the law in this state.”

The Supreme Court ruling, he said, “eliminates a lot of confusing case law and doesn’t do anything to harm local governments or their employees.”

Those advocating for the return of the law, Hurley said, “ought to just come out and say what they really want. They don’t want (government) employees sued for willful and wanton conduct. And they ought to tell the people what that means. They don’t want any consequences for their behavior, ever, no matter how egregious it is.”

But Cole denied that’s the intent of the bill and said current immunity law for first responders emergency personnel does not offer enough protection. That law, unlike the public duty rule, can be offered only as a defense in court. That translates to government entities wasting taxpayer money to defend themselves, he said.

thanks Dan

Excerpts from pantograph.com:

An Illinois Supreme Court ruling has united two groups that often are at odds when it comes to legislation pending at the Statehouse.

The Illinois Municipal League and the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, the state’s largest firefighters union, are backing a bill they say would shield local governments and public safety employees from being sued over the way they prioritize services.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, would codify the public duty rule that the Supreme Court struck down in January. The longstanding rule held that units of government and their employees have a duty to protect the well-being of the community as a whole rather than that of individual people.

Coleman, 58, called 911 because she was having difficulty breathing. There was a series of delays and miscommunication among emergency personnel, and by the time Coleman’s husband arrived home and let paramedics in, more than 40 minutes had passed. She was found unresponsive inside and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Coleman’s family sued the East Joliet and Orland fire protection districts, Will County, and their employees who were involved in the response.

Citing the public duty rule, lower courts ruled in favor of the defendants. But the high court overruled them in a 4-3 decision, abolishing the rule it had established in previous decisions.

“Obviously, if the legislature determines that the public policy requires it, it may codify the public duty rule, but we defer to the legislature in determining public policy,” Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote in the majority opinion.

That’s precisely what the Municipal League and the firefighters union are urging the General Assembly to do.

“In the Coleman case, the court decided to abandon the public duty rule and to abandon the public safety employees who the rule supports and defends,” said Brad Cole, the Municipal League’s executive director, calling it a “dangerous decision.”

For example, Cole said, it could expose local governments and their employees to lawsuits resulting from how they decide to prioritize numerous calls for help at the same time.

While there hasn’t been a flurry of new lawsuits since the ruling, supporters noted the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association opposes the measure.

Perry Browder, president of that association, said the proposed legislation is overly broad and could block an important check on how public safety agencies operate.

“We certainly don’t want to encourage frivolous lawsuits,” Browder said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to encourage reckless conduct or intentional disregard (by public safety employees) because that harms the public, harms our citizens and puts people at risk.”

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State legislation concerns local municipalities (more)

The Daily Herald has more on the local debate concerning IL HB5485:

Controversial state legislation that would make staffing levels for fire departments subject to arbitration should have no impact on Mount Prospect, the president of Mount Prospect Firefighters Local 4119 told the village board this week. The “minimum manning bill” would add staffing levels to the list of items — along with wages, hours and working conditions — subject to arbitration in the event that the village and firefighters could not agree on a contract.

Many suburban communities are outspoken opponents of the proposal, saying it would take decision making away from local officials intimately familiar with their communities’ needs and place it instead in the hands of an outside arbiter. They also say it could cost municipalities millions to pay for extra staff that officials don’t believe are needed.

But firefighter union President Dale Steward told village trustees this week those concerns are overblown. The proposal, he said, simply clarifies the intent of a 28-year law giving first responders input into the levels of safe staffing.

Mayor Arlene Juracek said municipalities are concerned about the loss of local control.

The minimum manning bill, HB 5485, is pending in the state legislature.

thanks Dan

A series of posts on this topic can be traced backwards beginning HERE.

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State legislation concerns local municipalities (more)

Thoughts and commentary centering on Illinois HB 5485:

From the Chicago Tribune:

Last week, the leaders of cities and towns across Illinois made a public plea for the state legislature to save them from the rising, crippling costs of public employee pension benefits. While the pension debate has tended to focus on Chicago and state government, it’s a huge problem for suburbs and downstate communities too. It puts enormous pressure on local taxes.

So what are lawmakers doing? Nothing much on municipal pensions. But they’re pushing legislation that would sock the municipalities — that is, local taxpayers — with even higher costs for government services.

The Illinois House this month passed a bill that would compel municipalities to negotiate the staffing levels for their fire departments with the firefighters union, even if their contracts don’t address that issue now. If an agreement on staffing levels can’t be resolved in collective bargaining, the issue would be subject to arbitration.

That is, the towns would lose the authority to decide how many people they need to staff the fire department. An arbitrator could order a town to maintain, say, at least a dozen firefighters on duty at all times.

It’s easy to see what’s in it for the firefighters union: more jobs.

And it’s easy to see what the impact would be on the residents of a town: higher taxes and cuts in other services.

Once fire staffing levels are set in a contract, it is difficult for city managers to adjust their fire-protection program in response to changing needs and resources. Springfield is angling to strip control from those in the best position to manage taxpayer funds and service needs, including local fire chiefs.

Some local governments already labor under staffing levels set by contract. Mayor Larry Morrissey of Rockford inherited such a contract rule when he won office in 2005, and he says he has struggled unsuccessfully to drop it. Rockford has to pay for more firefighters than it needs at the expense of other priorities, Morrissey told us. During the recession, the mandated overstaffing for fire protection forced the city to reduce its police force and make other painful cuts, he said.

Fire protection is essential. Municipalities, particularly small towns, need as much flexibility as possible to determine how to provide that service cost-effectively. Small towns may decide that a collaboration with neighboring towns would provide better service at lower cost. We can see how this law would drive a spike into such consolidation efforts.

The Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois argues that minimum staffing levels negotiated through contract are the most crucial factor in ensuring effective firefighting and rescue responses. We see no evidence, though, that citizens are better served when the people they elected to make such decisions are straitjacketed by state law.

The bill is in the Senate now. Senators, when you debate it, if you’re tempted to vote for it, be sure to call it what it is: a property tax increase bill. We’re sure your constituents will be thrilled.

From the SouthtownStar:

Steve Metsch’s recent story on the Oak Lawn Fire Department’s cost and staffing issues contained misinformation from Mayor Sandra Bury and the village, prompting me to clarify matters.

1) House Bill 5485 does not force towns to require minimum staf?ng on fire vehicles. All it does is codify that “minimum manning” is a mandatory subject of bargaining in Illinois, meaning that it has to be negotiated in good faith. HB 5485 does not mandate anything.

2) Fire Chief George Sheets’ comment that the key staf?ng issue is not how many ?re?ghters are on a truck but how many are at a fire scene is not accurate. We firefighters are able to bargain over staf?ng because our collective safety is directly related to how many ?re?ghters are assigned to an apparatus and to a particular shift. Oak Lawn ?re?ghters deserve to be safe at all times, not just at a fire scene.

3) Oak Lawn has underfunded its public safety pensions for years, while employees have contributed to their pensions every month, year after year. Whether the local economy was good or bad, the village has continually “kicked the can down the road.” It’s not fair to blame Oak Lawn police and ?re?ghters for the village not meeting its pension obligations.

4) Village manager Larry Deetjen said “72 percent of the Oak Lawn ?re?ghters do not live in Oak Lawn,” which is true. They have not been required to live in the village for at least 25 years. The residency requirement was dropped as a result of a federal discrimination investigation in the 1980s. Not residing in Oak Lawn does not take away a firefighter’s right to a safe work environment.

5) Deetjen continually cites the village spending nearly $2 million last year on fire department overtime. He doesn’t mention that the number of firefighters has declined from more than 100 to 76 — about a 25 percent cut while the department responds to an increasing number of emergency calls. Deetjen doesn’t say that the overtime cost is offset by the reduced manpower costs (wages, insurance and other bene?ts). The village has not hired any new ?re?ghters (or paramedics) since April 2007.

Vincent Grif?n

President

Oak Lawn Professional Fire?ghters Association

thanks Dan

Previous posts are HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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State legislation concerns local municipalities

An article from politics Early&Often about municipalities’concerns over HB 5485:

Municipal leaders are sounding the alarm over legislation they say could take decisions regarding fire department staffing levels out of their hands.

Proponents of the measure, which passed the Illinois House earlier this month, say it’s a safety issue, while municipal officials argue it could further stress already tight budgets.

The Senate later this spring is expected to consider the legislation, which would clarify or modify the state’s Public Labor Relations Act that gave police officers and firefighters the right to bargain collectively. The change would allow fire department staffing or minimum manning levels to be negotiated — along with wages, benefits and work rules — and potentially subject to arbitration. If ultimately signed into law, the measure — HB 5485 — wouldn’t apply to Chicago.

Some towns, such as Oak Lawn, already have staffing requirements built into their contracts with firefighters.

What’s alarming municipal officials is that decisions about personnel numbers could, if not worked out at the bargaining table, be made in arbitration on a case-by-case basis.

Groups such as the Northwest Municipal Conference and the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association warn that if communities are required to maintain certain fire staffing levels, it could force layoffs in other areas.

“Manning has never been an issue that could go to arbitration,” Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said, adding that the group’s members are “very concerned” about the legislation.

An official with the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois said concerns of municipal officials are overblown. Pat Devaney, president of the labor group, said the legislation doesn’t mandate that communities establish minimum personnel levels and would codify court rulings that have upheld the use of arbitration in maintaining staffing numbers.

In a video she posted earlier this month, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury described the minimum manning requirements in her community as “archaic,” and said it “ties our hands” as far as allocating municipal resources.

Communities could face huge increases in personnel costs, forcing them to resort to higher property taxes or cuts in other areas, Steve Quigley, executive director of the Will County Governmental League, said. Quigley said that, in Will County, a firefighter costs the average municipality about $130,000 a year with salary, benefits and pension. To raise the staffing level at one fire station by one firefighter would cost the municipality more than three times that in order to cover shifts around the clock, he said.

Eamon O’Dowd, president of Glenview Firefighters Local 4186, said firefighters should have a say in how many of them work each shift. He said village administrators first suggested giving themselves control of manning by reducing daily personnel in January 2011. “This was a proposal, but a policy they wanted while we were in contract negotiations. This should be separate from what’s on the negotiating table,” said O’Dowd, an 18-year paramedic and firefighter with Glenview.

Glenview firefighters also offered to save $300,000 a year by reducing overtime and capping salary raises for two years, O’Dowd said, in return for manning assurances. Despite complaints from firefighters about proper staffing levels, Don Owen, deputy village manager for Glenview, said the bill would reduce municipalities’ ability to govern. “It really would take away what elected officials and village administrators are supposed to do for residents,” he said. “It would not allow us to perform tradeoffs in budgeting and be accountable to residents. It’s a very bad piece of legislation if we’re mandated to staffing levels.”

Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said it could be the middle of next month before senators get a good look at the bill. She said Radogno is “gathering input” on the issue and has been hearing from municipal officials who oppose it and firefighters who support it.

thanks Dan

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