The families are fired up

— Fam­il­ies of Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers hold a rally to let the pub­lic know the fire de­part­ment's brown­outs and oth­er is­sues have them see­ing red.

Kylie Cos­tello, 3, joins fam­ily mem­bers at an in­form­a­tion rally out­side Path­mark, about the work­ing con­di­tions im­ple­men­ted by the co­mis­sion­er and may­or, Thursday, March 29, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22 is on re­cord as deeply op­posed to the city and fire de­part­ment’s policy of “brown­outs” — the rolling, tem­por­ary clos­ures of some fire sta­tions.

Now, the PFD Fam­il­ies As­so­ci­ation is speak­ing out against the policy and en­ga­ging in an aware­ness and edu­ca­tion cam­paign.

And high-powered com­mu­nic­a­tions spe­cial­ist Frank Keel is launch­ing a pub­lic ser­vice cam­paign.

The fam­il­ies group, which met last week at Loc­al 22 and held an in­form­a­tion­al rally at the Path­mark store at Cottman Av­en­ue and Oakley Street in Burholme, be­lieves the brown­outs put fire­fight­ers and the pub­lic in danger.

It’s fine, the wo­men be­lieve, for the fire de­part­ment to put such an em­phas­is on hav­ing work­ing smoke de­tect­ors on each floor of a home.

It’d be much safer for those res­id­ents, they ar­gue, if their loc­al fire sta­tion was fully op­er­a­tion­al.

“I nev­er saw a smoke de­tect­or carry someone out of a burn­ing build­ing,” said Ther­ese Garvin, whose hus­band Pete is a fire­fight­er.

Garvin and the oth­ers are up­set about more than brown­outs.

Mor­ale, they say, is on the de­cline. They blame the de­cision-mak­ing of fire de­part­ment seni­or man­agers in areas of dis­cip­line, the griev­ance pro­cess, hir­ing and pro­mo­tions.

Also, fire­fight­ers have been work­ing without a con­tract for three years and haven’t re­ceived a cost-of-liv­ing raise. They are pro­hib­ited by law from go­ing on strike, and their fam­il­ies agree that they would nev­er strike or re­fuse to go in­to a burn­ing build­ing, no mat­ter how bad their work­ing con­di­tions.

The De­ferred Re­tire­ment Op­tion Plan (DROP) is also in jeop­ardy, fam­il­ies be­lieve, be­cause elec­ted of­fi­cials and some oth­er city work­ers have ruined the pro­gram’s repu­ta­tion among the pub­lic by “re­tir­ing” for one day then com­ing back to work.

Brown­outs, though, are the im­me­di­ate con­cern. They were im­ple­men­ted by the city to save money.

The fam­il­ies con­tend that brown­outs delay re­sponse. A bat­talion chief’s car or a med­ic unit might ar­rive first at a fire that needs an en­gine to pump wa­ter and a lad­der to vent­il­ate and search the prop­erty and make res­cues.

“Un­less they’re all there to­geth­er, the house will burn and people will die,” said Dawn Cooper, whose hus­band George has been a fire­man for 20 years.

Garvin said she has a nurse friend who saw a wo­man have a heart at­tack on Holme Av­en­ue and began ad­min­is­ter­ing CPR.

An am­bu­lance ar­rived 20-something minutes later, ac­cord­ing to the wo­man, and cit­izens began yelling at the med­ics.

“They should have been scream­ing at the com­mis­sion­er and the may­or for all these cuts,” Garvin said.

An­oth­er stick­ing point for the fam­il­ies is the dis­cip­line and trans­fer of fire­fight­ers who get in­to ac­ci­dents at in­ter­sec­tions or sus­tain fa­cial and neck burns, if it is de­term­ined they were im­prop­erly wear­ing their gear.

One ar­gu­ment against dis­cip­line is that the gear is not fire­proof. Also, in a fire, the gear could be moved or knocked off, es­pe­cially in ex­treme tem­per­at­ures.

“These men and wo­men are be­ing pun­ished simply for do­ing their job. It’s out­rageous and de­mor­al­iz­ing,” said Lisa Hogan, whose hus­band James is an act­ive fire­man and whose dad Wil­li­am Corcor­an is a re­tired fire­man.

Garvin spoke of a Lad­der 15 fire­fight­er who re­cently got “shang­hai’ed” — trans­ferred to an un­desir­able sta­tion — after suf­fer­ing an in­jury in a blaze.

“Ask the two ci­vil­ians he saved if he should have been pun­ished,” Garvin said.

The fam­il­ies are glad May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter can­not run for an­oth­er term, and they hope Fire Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers re­tires. Ay­ers did not re­turn a call for com­ment.

To spread the word about these is­sues, the fam­il­ies have a pe­ti­tion on, are cre­at­ing a Face­book page, are giv­ing fli­ers to fire­fight­ers to take home for their loved ones and marched in the re­cent St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They’ll have a say in the next Loc­al 22 news­let­ter.

They are en­cour­aging the pub­lic to use red bulbs on their out­door light fix­tures, much the way some people use blue bulbs in sup­port of po­lice of­ficers.

In ad­di­tion, they have cre­ated posters that show the ser­i­ous in­jur­ies suffered by fire­fight­ers.

The wo­men will con­tin­ue to have ral­lies out­side su­per­mar­kets and oth­er ven­ues that at­tract large num­bers of people.

They could camp out for a long time in Ta­cony.

“En­gine 38 is al­ways browned out,” Garvin said.

The En­gine 38 sta­tion at State Road and Long­shore Av­en­ue was de­mol­ished in Feb­ru­ary 2009 to make way for an I-95 south­bound en­trance. Delayed con­struc­tion con­tin­ues at the new site, Key­stone Street and Magee Av­en­ue.

At the ral­lies, rib­bons are giv­en out to the pub­lic to sig­ni­fy which com­pany is be­ing browned out that day — red for lad­der, black for en­gine and blue for med­ic.

The job is stress­ful enough, the wo­men say, without the oth­er is­sues. The de­part­ment has a tra­di­tion and broth­er­hood, they think, that is un­der at­tack.

Keel’s theme is, “What Can Brown-Outs Do For You?” a takeoff on the UPS slo­gan.

One of his pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments shows a house on the 200 block of Sparks St. in Ol­ney des­troyed by a Feb­ru­ary 2011 fire that claimed the lives of two chil­dren. The nearby En­gine 61 was closed the night of the fire.

“It’s meant to shock and is in­ten­tion­ally alarm­ing,” he said of the scene of the house in rubble.

Keel, on be­half of Loc­al 22, plans “in-your-face” news­pa­per ad­vert­ise­ments and pos­sibly ra­dio and cable tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. He’ll also give cop­ies of a doc­u­ment­ary on the brown­out is­sue to City Coun­cil mem­bers, and might help or­gan­ize a gi­ant rally out­side City Hall.

One mes­sage will be that po­lice of­ficers get awards for hero­ic ac­tions, while fire­fight­ers get pun­ished and re­as­signed.

“It’s like be­ing de­moted to JV,” he said.

Keel said fire­fight­ers want re­spect from the city, and he said it would be nice for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­cept the next ar­bit­ra­tion awards.

The brown­out is­sue, ac­cord­ing to Keel, is not go­ing away.

“It’s only go­ing to get hot­ter, no pun in­ten­ded,” he said. ••


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