Firefighter wants city to hire more workers
Dan Emplit opposes decision to reduce minimum number of firefighters per shift.
BILL O ’ BOYLE firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE – Dan Emplit said Thursday that he’s probably putting a “target on my back,” but the veteran city firefighter/EMT said he is committed to convincing the mayor and council to hire more firefighters.
“How long are you going to depend on luck to save lives?” Emplit asked council. Mayor Tom Leighton did not attend last night’s meeting.
Emplit cited recent calls that the fire department responded to. He said on Wednesday night, the response was to a grease fire on Gilligan Street and on April 29th, there was an apartment fire. In both instances, Emplit said the city had all three fire engines in operation; had it not, he said, the results could have been catastrophic.
Emplit opposes Leighton’s decision earlier this year to reduce the minimum number of firefighters per shift from 14 to 12. The mayor said he made the decision to cut down on escalating overtime costs in the fire department.
Emplit referred to a study commissioned by the city in May 1995 by Stephen Lloyd Associates of Park Forest, IL, that set 17 per shift as a minimum for fire fighter staffing. A second study was conducted in March 2002 by the International Association of Fire Fighters, and was commissioned by the local union. That study recommended increasing the city’s fire fighting staff.
When Emplit joined the city department in 1993, he said there were 88 fire fighters and now there are around 65.
“This number – 17 – is not a number that the fire department came up with,” Emplit said. “The city’s own study quoted it as a minimum necessary for our goals of saving lives, incident stabilization and property conservation.”
Emplit said a successful fire fight means “everyone returns to their family safe and whole.”
“We are the citizens’ only defense against most life-threatening situations and manning is our only defense on that front line,” Emplit said. “We can not safely work with this low of a manning number.”
Council Chairman Bill Barrett said after the meeting that negotiations remain ongoing between the administration and the fire fighters union Local 104. He said commenting on Emplit’s remarks might jeopardize those talks.
“I will say that I would like to see a third engine staff at all times,” Barrett said.
The current contract expires at the end of 2010. Emplit said fewer men and slower response times could result in increased property damage and risk human life. He said fewer men also endanger firefighters who have more duties and other tasks to perform that normally require more personnel.
“Our job is never safe,” Emplit said. “We are talking about situations where minutes, if not seconds, are the difference between a save and someone’s incalculable loss.”