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Firefighter staffing model creates efficiency and seems to work

The Buffalo firefighters’ union can’t have it both ways. They can’t agree to what is known as “dynamic staffing” so that they can finally get raises and then turn around and say that the practice is dangerous.

Dynamic staffing takes firehouses out of service when a certain number of employees call in sick, or the entire house is training.

Dynamic staffing creates a more efficient system without excessively leaning on overtime. It is the out-of-the-box financial solution administration watchdogs have long called for.

The firefighters’ union signed off on the system in 2013 in order to get a raise. Vincent Ventresca, president of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Union Local 282 put it bluntly: “We hadn’t had a raise in 11 years. We probably would have agreed to anything to get that contract done.”

Ventresca’s honest comment weakens the argument against the practice, though he said at a recent Common Council meeting that the model is a mistake.

The union, he said, is not saying that dynamic staffing “has led directly to a death” but situations unfold “much differently when companies are out of position and are closed.” He was referring to response times and citing a January fire on Winslow Avenue that claimed the life of an 84-year-old man. Fire Commissioner William Renaldo insists that dynamic staffing does not put the public or firefighters at risk. Moreover, he said, the department is “well within” the response time recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

Here’s how it works: If five firefighters or more throughout the city call in sick, the commissioner can take one company out of service for a 24-hour shift. The closure schedule – enhanced by a soon-to-be upgraded computer-aided dispatch system – will help ensure that no one company will be continually put out of service.

If Renaldo is correct, and we have no reason to doubt him, then the department should continue using this creative tool. The problem is that neither the union nor the department can produce data defending their positions.

Firefighters, including Renaldo and every union-represented member, willingly signed up for an often dangerous job out of deep sense of responsibility and public service. So far, dynamic staffing appears to be working and any attempt to end the program seems ill-advised.

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