Posts Tagged Oak Lawn Fire Department Lt. Vince Griffin

Oak Lawn Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

For years, Oak Lawn’s administration and its firefighters union have waged a bitter and expensive legal battle over minimum apparatus and shift staffing requirements.

The administration argues that the department can safely and effectively run with three on an engine and a total of 19 firefighters per shift. The union contends that four to an engine — as is stipulated in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement — and 21 individuals on duty at all times — as a grievance arbitrator decided in 2008 — represent the minimum staffing necessary to keep firefighters and the community safe.

Unable to make any headway in discussions on the topic, the parties have turned to an arbitrator to adjudicate recent labor contracts. If the arbitrator, whose ruling on the current contract is expected in November, sides with the village and permits a reduction in staffing, it would mean nearly $1 million in annual savings on overtime, officials have said. It also would mean a less safe work environment for firefighters and the public, union president Vince Griffin contends.

The National Fire Protection Association, which releases national firefighting codes and standards, recommends that fire engine companies be staffed with a minimum of four members, as Griffin would prefer. One firefighter should staff the pump, another should secure the water supply and two should advance the hoseline, according to the NFPA’s guidelines.

Maintaining four to an engine also enables adherence to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s two-in, two-out rule, which mandates that firefighters never enter a burning building alone. When two firefighters do enter a dangerous situation, there always should be two others on the outside who can back them up or rescue them, if need be.

In practice, however, fire departments vary in their observance of the NFPA’s standards. Because the standards are not law, but rather recommended best practices, departments pick and choose which they wish to follow.

I would say the majority of the fire departments in the United States follow at least some of the NFPA standards,” said Ed Conlin, a retired Massachusetts fire lieutenant who now serves as the NFPA’s division manager of public fire protection. “Which ones (they follow), it’s hard to determine, because departments can cherry pick not only the document they want to use, but also the section of the document they want to use.”

Suburban Illinois departments rarely follow the NFPA’s suggested minimum apparatus staffing, Oak Lawn fire chief George Sheets said. “All of our surrounding communities are responding with less than 4 (on an engine),” he said. “The entire state of Illinois, with the exception of maybe five departments, is running with less than 4.”

While Sheets says he’d love to be able to continue staffing four firefighters per engine, he doesn’t believe it’s necessary given the village’s smaller building stock and its membership in MABAS, the state’s mutual aid system.

Only one of a list of 14 comparable communities agreed upon by village officials and the union as part of the current arbitration process staffs four to an engine. The rest run with 2 or 3, according to a court exhibit provided by Oak Lawn’s legal counsel.

“Those communities are larger than us in some respects, so that gives you a real compelling comparison of other communities that operate with less, that are larger and more densely populated and have infrastructure we don’t have,” Sheets said. “When you look at the Southland area, there’s no department that comes close to the staffing of Oak Lawn.”

He argues the total number of firefighters that assemble at a scene, rather than the number on any given apparatus, is what really matters. NFPA standards recommend that a minimum of 12 firefighters respond to fires at single-family dwellings; 23 for open-air strip malls; 27 for garden style apartments; and 40 for high-rise buildings.

Sheets said that when you take into consideration the 21-per-shift staffing that Oak Lawn currently employs and add to that the mutual aid provided by neighboring departments, it’s typical for there to be between 30 and 40 firefighters present for any working fire in the village.

Reducing per-shift staffing from 21 to 19 — either by reducing the staffing per apparatus or removing an apparatus altogether — would not make a significant dent in the overall fire response, Sheets and other village officials argue.

Only about 30 percent of the fire department’s 8,000-plus calls each year are for fires, and the vast majority of those end up being false alarms, he said. In Sheets’ estimation, Oak Lawn battles only about 10 working fires annually. Rather than staff four to an engine all the time, he’d prefer to place a fourth ambulance in service to respond to the village’s growing number of medical emergency calls.

“We could have jump companies where, depending on the type of call, the people jump on the appropriate piece of apparatus,” Sheets said. “That’s what 99 percent of departments in the state and country do — they have jump companies and the flexibility of taking a piece of apparatus based on the call.”

Griffin, however, argues that any reduction in staffing would have a detrimental effect on safety, and said he’d be doing a disservice to Oak Lawn residents and fellow firefighters if he conceded to any reductions.

thanks Dan

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Oak Lawn Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Oak Lawn is hailing a recent Illinois Appellate Court decision in its longstanding litigation over staffing with the village’s firefighters union as a significant victory for taxpayers.

On Aug. 12, the appellate court upheld a 2015 Illinois Labor Relations Board’s ruling that found Oak Lawn not liable for $3.2 million in back pay and accrued interest the union argued firefighters were owed because of the village’s alleged failure to comply with minimum staffing provisions in the contract.

The ruling marks the fourth time in the past 18 months the village has prevailed in its case with the firefighters union over minimum staffing, village officials said.

While the union is legally entitled to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to take up the case, it does not appear likely to do so.

Oak Lawn Fire Department Lt. Vince Griffin, who heads the union, said Friday that he doesn’t believe the union will challenge the appellate court’s decision.

Griffin also said it was absolutely possible that in the wake of its most recent legal setback, the union would drop a separate appeal of a grievance arbitrator’s decision about the same staffing issue. If that occurs, it would effectively mark the end of the years-long legal battle over minimum manning grievances that the village and its firefighters have been waging since 2008.

In that year, the firefighters union filed a grievance against Oak Lawn after the village, as a belt-tightening measure, began staffing engines with three people, rather than four, as is stipulated in the contract. A grievance arbitrator sided with the union and ordered the village to maintain a minimum manning level of 21 people per shift and provide $286,000 in back pay for the nine-plus months the it had reduced staffing below that number, village officials said.

As a result, the village returned minimum staffing to 21 per shift and, after losing an appeal of the arbitrator’s decision, paid out the allotted sum.

The union later filed a compliance petition, arguing that the village had not complied with the minimum staffing provisions in the contract, and should actually be staffing 22 people per shift. The Illinois Labor Relations Board initially found in favor of the union and last year awarded it more than $3 million in back pay and accrued interest, but that decision was later reversed on appeal.

This month’s appellate court decision was an affirmation of that reversal, and solidifies the minimum manning status quo at 21 per shift.

While the grievance aspect of the longstanding feud may have reached its conclusion, the battle over minimum manning requirements continues to impede contract negotiations between the village and its firefighters. Oak Lawn has argued, thus far unsuccessfully, that minimum staffing levels at the fire department should be a management prerogative not subject to collective bargaining.

The village contends that it should be able to set minimum staffing levels at 19 firefighters per shift, down two from the 21-per-shift staffing minimum that an independent arbitrator in 2008 ruled the village must abide by, Oak Lawn officials said.

“It’s our contention that that is an inherent right in Illinois and that the decision on how to staff, and what level to staff, and how to deploy, is a right of management, the governing body,” said Deetjen. He, along with Fire Chief George Sheets, Mayor Sandra Bury and all but one member of the village board, argue that the fire department can operate safely and effectively with fewer members working per shift, and in so doing, save the village in overtime costs.

With neither side willing to budge on the minimum staffing issue, recent labor contracts have been adjudicated through an arbitration process.

In 2014, the first time the parties’ collective bargaining dispute went to an interest arbitrator, the arbitrator decided to leave staffing stipulations contained in the contract as is, maintaining the 21-per-shift status quo. When that contract expired at the end of 2014, the village brought the issue back to arbitration, where in the coming months a new arbitrator will rule on it.

If Oak Lawn prevails in the arbitration — a decision isn’t expected until November — it stands to save an additional $937,000 in overtime costs annually going forward, officials said.

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