A fiery baptism

— Emo­tions ran smoking hot when May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter and Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment brass showed up for the ded­ic­a­tion of a new fire­house in Ta­cony on Tues­day.

About 100 protest­ors gath­er at the Lad­der 38 open­ing ce­re­mony to get an ex­plan­a­tion from the May­or as to why he hasn’t paid them what they are owed from their uni­on con­tract. The con­tract was im­ple­men­ted 4 years ago by a judge, but May­or Nut­ter’s cab­in­et has ap­pealed it over and over since then. It is due to ex­pire soon, but protest­ors claim they nev­er im­ple­men­ted it to be­gin with, Tues­day, Janu­ary 8, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Dis­gruntled rank-and-file fire­fight­ers greeted May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter and seni­or Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment of­fi­cials with in­flam­mat­ory chants at the ded­ic­a­tion of a new, long-awaited fire­house in Ta­cony on Tues­day.

As Nut­ter, Deputy May­or Ever­ett Gil­lis­on and Fire Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers cut the rib­bon on the $6.7 mil­lion En­gine 38 fa­cil­ity at Key­stone Street and Magee Av­en­ue in nor­mally bu­col­ic Dis­ston Park, more than 150 mem­bers of the city’s fire­fight­ers uni­on, Loc­al 22, loudly de­man­ded that the ad­min­is­tra­tion hon­or the labor con­tract awar­ded to them in 2010 through bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion.

And as com­munity lead­ers toured what would be the city’s first-ever “green” fire­house, Loc­al 22 mem­bers ques­tioned how long the fa­cil­ity would re­main open full-time be­fore it would be­come sub­ject to the fire de­part­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial brown-out policy.

“We are here today be­cause the may­or con­tin­ues to stick be­hind claims that he can’t af­ford to pay our con­tract and can’t af­ford to stop brown-outs, which isn’t true,” said a uni­on demon­strat­or, who spoke on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity to shield him­self from pos­sible on-the-job back­lash.

Un­der the brown-out pro­gram, the fire de­part­ment shuts down op­er­a­tions at cer­tain fire­houses throughout the city on se­lec­ted shifts on a ro­tat­ing basis. Neigh­bor­ing fire com­pan­ies cov­er the va­cated ter­rit­or­ies. Ini­ti­ated in 2010, the pro­gram is meant to save the city $3.8 mil­lion an­nu­ally in fire­fight­er wages, par­tic­u­larly over­time ex­pendit­ures.

ldquo;It’s a nev­er-end­ing battle between us and [Nut­ter], when the num­ber one pri­or­ity should be safety,” the an­onym­ous uni­on mem­ber said.

Demon­strat­ors, many of whom were ac­com­pan­ied by their spouses and chil­dren, as­sembled out­side the fire­house as pub­lic tours of the site began at 10 a.m. They booed as Gil­lis­on and then Nut­ter ar­rived. They waved signs de­mand­ing a “re­call” of the may­or, who was elec­ted to a second term in 2011.

The demon­strat­ors, who were not in uni­form, re-as­sembled in­side the fire­house as Nut­ter and oth­er of­fi­cials took turns speak­ing at a po­di­um. Some uni­on mem­bers walked out of the build­ing as the Rev. Joseph L. Far­rell of St. Leo’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church led a re­cit­a­tion of The Lord’s Pray­er. Oth­ers walked out as Nut­ter ap­proached the mi­cro­phone.

Heck­lers in­ter­rup­ted the speak­ers re­peatedly. When a group of demon­strat­ors chanted, “bind­ing, bind­ing, bind­ing,” a ref­er­ence to the un­ful­filled ar­bit­ra­tion award, event or­gan­izers at­temp­ted to close the three tower­ing gar­age doors to buf­fer the noise and lock the Loc­al 22 mem­bers out of the fire­house. But savvy demon­strat­ors pre­ven­ted the doors from clos­ing by stand­ing be­neath them and trig­ger­ing safety sensors.

“This is Amer­ica and people have a right to ex­press them­selves,” Nut­ter told the North­east Times after the event. “Some­times, you’d like them to use cer­tain judg­ment, but you can’t do any­thing about that.”

The may­or in­sisted that the protests couldn’t spoil a joy­ous oc­ca­sion.

“You can­not rob the com­munity of their joy and ap­pre­ci­ation for what happened here,” Nut­ter said. “We prom­ised them a new fire sta­tion, new fire equip­ment and we ful­filled that.”

En­gine 38 had been on a per­petu­al brown-out be­cause the com­pany, while still com­mis­sioned by the de­part­ment, had no fire­house. The city tore down the former fire­house at State Road and Long­shore Av­en­ue in 2009 to make room for con­struc­tion on In­ter­state 95.

The new En­gine 38 is not on the brown-out ro­ta­tion.

“En­gine 38 will be op­er­at­ing full-time as soon as we cut the rib­bon, twenty-four-sev­en,” said Bat­talion Chief Chuck Walk­er, who over­sees fa­cil­it­ies and equip­ment for the fire de­part­ment.

The de­part­ment has not dis­closed if it will add en­gine com­pan­ies to the brown-out ro­ta­tion to com­pensate for the re­mov­al of En­gine 38 from the ro­ta­tion, or if En­gine 38 will be ad­ded back to the ro­ta­tion even­tu­ally.

“We’re look­ing at oth­er pos­sib­il­it­ies for sta­tions in [oth­er] areas,” said Ex­ec­ut­ive Chief Richard Dav­is­on, the fire de­part­ment’s of­fi­cial spokes­man. “But that de­cision hasn’t been made yet.”

Bill Gault, the Loc­al 22 pres­id­ent, said that the de­part­ment is­sued a memo to uni­on mem­bers stat­ing that En­gine 38 will re­main act­ive full-time for at least one month.

“All I know right now is this is not go­ing to be browned out this month,” Gault said.

Walk­er de­scribed the new fire­house as a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity where any fire­fight­er would be pleased to work. It is the city’s first newly built fire­house since 1997. The city and the state split con­struc­tion costs about evenly.

In ad­di­tion, the fire de­part­ment as­signed a new ap­par­at­us to the res­id­ent com­pany. The bright red 2012 KME “wa­ter tower” dies­el truck cost between $250,000 and $300,000 to buy and equip, Walk­er said.

The 12,200-square-foot build­ing has two floors and was built in­to a nat­ur­al slope, so there are en­trances on both floors.

The gar­age has three bays, al­though just one ap­par­at­us has been as­signed to the fa­cil­ity.

It was built to achieve LEED Sil­ver cer­ti­fic­a­tion due to its en­vir­on­ment­ally con­scious con­struc­tion and design. Cer­ti­fic­a­tion is pending.

The sta­tion has a storm-wa­ter man­age­ment sys­tem and ef­fi­cient heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems. All of the raw ma­ter­i­als used in con­struc­tion ori­gin­ated with­in 500 miles of the site to min­im­ize the en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact of trans­port­ing them. Tubes in­side the gar­age col­lect the ex­haust from id­ling trucks and fil­ter out the con­tam­in­ants.

“It sits back [in­to the hill­side] and doesn’t in­ter­fere with the aes­thet­ics of the park,” Walk­er said.

Com­munity lead­ers from the Ta­cony Civic As­so­ci­ation, the His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety of Ta­cony and oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions en­dorsed the pro­ject, des­pite the po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial place­ment in­side a city park.

Nut­ter and oth­er city of­fi­cials cred­ited former City Coun­cil­wo­man Joan Kra­jew­ski, her suc­cessor, Bobby Hen­on, and state law­makers for shep­herd­ing the pro­ject through gov­ern­ment ap­provals and fund­ing pro­cesses. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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