Northeast Times

Paramedic transfers are good, says fire commissioner

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Monday’s trans­fers of more than 160 of Phil­adelphia’s 200 fire de­part­ment para­med­ics will be­ne­fit them and the city in the long run, ac­cord­ing to Fire Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers, des­pite any short-term in­con­veni­ence.

On Fri­day, Ay­ers con­tac­ted the North­east Times to re­spond to ac­cus­a­tions by the pres­id­ent of the city’s fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics uni­on that the per­son­nel moves were the fire de­part­ment lead­er­ship’s way of re­tali­at­ing against med­ics fol­low­ing a years-old dis­pute over their over­time pay.

An art­icle de­tail­ing the com­plaints by Bill Gault, pres­id­ent of In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22, ap­peared in the Jan. 4 edi­tion of the Times. But the com­mis­sion­er’s of­fice did not re­spond to the news­pa­per’s re­quests for com­ment in time for in­clu­sion in that art­icle.

“This ro­ta­tion pro­cess is not something that’s bad. It’s pos­it­ive,” Ay­ers said Fri­day. “We’re us­ing the fire of­ficers mod­el, which we’ve been do­ing for years and years, dec­ades even. Even­tu­ally, it will pro­mote more flex­ib­il­ity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism [among med­ics].”

Ay­ers denied Gault’s claims that the per­son­nel moves were driv­en by spite over the med­ics’ Fair Labor Stand­ards Act class-ac­tion suit, which they won in Decem­ber 2008, for­cing the city to pay them mil­lions in back over­time pay.

“Bill Gault is the pres­id­ent [of Loc­al 22]. His job is to take care of his mem­bers. And my job is to take care of our mem­bers, too,” Ay­ers said. “And some­times, there’s con­flict.”

After the law­suit, the fire de­part­ment mod­i­fied med­ics’ work sched­ules to meet the re­quire­ments of the FLSA while try­ing to min­im­ize the city’s over­time ex­pendit­ures.

Pre­vi­ously, med­ics had ro­tated between 10-hour day shifts and 14-hour night shifts. On the new sched­ule, med­ics began work­ing steady 12-hour shifts. About half work sev­en days every two weeks, while the oth­ers work sev­en nights every two weeks.

The fire de­part­ment still al­lots over­time to cov­er for its 25 va­cant med­ic po­s­i­tions, but an­oth­er 15 new hires are now in train­ing at the fire academy, Ay­ers said.

The de­part­ment first no­ti­fied para­med­ics of the planned per­son­nel moves in 2009 and asked each to sub­mit a list of five re­ques­ted as­sign­ments, Ay­ers said. The de­part­ment’s lead­er­ship in­ten­ded to give all med­ics equal op­por­tun­ity to work days or nights. Gen­er­ally, day work is in high­er de­mand than night work, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion­er.

The plan is to con­duct sim­il­ar per­son­nel changes every three years. Fire and med­ic of­ficers of the rank of lieu­ten­ant and above are sub­ject to the same tri­en­ni­al trans­fer pro­cess.

Gault had ar­gued that the ac­tu­al de­sire among rank-and-file med­ics to change shifts or change as­sign­ments was min­im­al. By his count, 150 med­ics re­ques­ted to re­main in their same unit and shift. Ay­ers claims that the num­ber was more like 100, or about half of all med­ics.

Mean­while, the com­mis­sion­er said, 73 per­cent of med­ics were giv­en their first or second choice of as­sign­ment, while 76.4 per­cent were giv­en one of their top three choices.

“When you open the whole thing up and look at the big­ger pic­ture, [med­ics] really have an op­por­tun­ity to make choices,” Ay­ers said.

Gault fur­ther ar­gued that the de­part­ment’s emer­gency ser­vice will suf­fer as med­ics ac­cli­mate to new neigh­bor­hoods and new part­ners. Ay­ers re­tor­ted that city am­bu­lances have GPS sys­tems and that most para­med­ics are fa­mil­i­ar with the city and its hos­pit­als, any­way, re­gard­less of the neigh­bor­hood.

“Many re­ques­ted [to work] in the areas where they live, so they drive it every day,” Ay­ers said. ••

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You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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