By Chris Whelan
The conclusions reached by The Buffalo News regarding dynamic staffing within the Buffalo Fire Department were lacking context on how the policy came to be and its negative impact on citizen safety and fire operations.
In 2003, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority was imposed on the City of Buffalo. What this meant for the members of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 was that wages and contractual step increases were frozen. The negative impact this had on the morale of the department cannot be overstated.
In 2013, the city and union negotiated and signed a collective bargaining agreement. During negotiations, the city proposed and insisted on what The Buffalo News described as an “out of the box” financial solution to control overtime known as dynamic staffing. Raises were offered by the city, and in light of the dark years of the control board, the proposed contract was presented to the union body and it passed despite the dynamic staffing provision.
Once dynamic staffing was implemented, it didn’t take long for the union and its members to realize the negative impact it would have on citizen safety and fire department operations. In light of this realization, the union attempted to remove the dynamic staffing provision during negotiations for the 2018 collective bargaining agreement.
Dynamic staffing dictates that one fire company will close on a rotating basis if a certain number of members working that shift are on sick leave. The public is not made aware that its fire protection is going to be diminished for the duration of that 24-hour shift.
While it is true that during any shift, a fire company may be out of service for a valid departmental reason, that time frame is for a short duration, not for 24 hours.
Dynamic staffing has been a detrimental factor that has led to increased property loss and has had catastrophic outcomes in some cases.
In April 2019, multiple structure fires in the Elmwood Village cost city taxpayers more than $1 million in damages.
In January 2020, a structure fire on Winslow Avenue unfortunately resulted in the fatality of a city resident.
In both situations, dynamic staffing was implemented for that shift and the fire department’s response was hurt.
The Buffalo News Editorial Board states that “every union-represented member willingly signed up for an often dangerous job.” This is true. However, what we didn’t sign up for is an administration that continues to implement what it knows to be a dangerous policy in order to save a small amount of money.
Chris Whelan is 4th District trustee of Buffalo Firefighters Local 282.