Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters asked two courts this morning to order Mayor Nutter's administration to stop plans to eliminate five fire engines and two ladder trucks until the safety of the budget cuts can be further studied. Rick Poulson, Local 22's attorney, said actions were filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the state Supreme Court.
The local lawsuit, Poulson said, cites contract language added in 2005 that allows the fire fighters to file a grievance on workplace safety issues. The union did just that on the budget cuts on Dec. 3. The city has not responded, Poulson said. The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an injunction stalling the cuts until the grievance process is completed.
The filing with the Supreme Court also asks those judges to step in and stop the budget cuts because the fire fighters are appealing a decision on another lawsuit. The city appealed a 2005 contract provision on the procedure for closing fire companies but lost in the Court of Common Pleas. The city appealed that decision and won in 2007. The fire fighters appealed and the Supreme Court this year agreed to hear that case, which is scheduled for a March hearing.
The fire fighters, Poulson said, consider that hearing a good sign that they could win. "We think the city is attempting to ram through these closures before the Supreme Court renders a decision," he said. "In our view, we see it as an end-run around the court."
Nutter and his staff have emphasized that no fire fighters are being laid off and no fire stations are being closed. The engines and ladders being eliminated are currently staffed by fire fighters working overtime, who will be reassigned to other posts in the department.
UPDATE: City Solicitor Shelley Smith just responded to the fire fighter legal action this way: "I think the fire fighters should acknowledge that they've already lost this issue. The current state of the law is that the city has the right to close fire companies. That's what it has done. And it had done it, mindful of the safety of the fire fighters and the safety of the citizens."