By Bill Gault
The recent deaths of our brothers Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney in the Kensington warehouse inferno have resulted in raw, emotional turmoil among the city's firefighters. These tragic deaths have galvanized our union membership like never before and we're now taking the fight directly to the Nutter administration and the current leadership of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
We're angry about the city's insistence on continuing its dangerous brownout policy, while willfully ignoring the facts. Fires double in size every 30 seconds; smoke inhalation can kill in seconds. When a fire erupts in a neighborhood with a browned-out or permanently closed fire company, responding fire vehicles must travel a greater distance to reach the fire scene, increasing the response time and further endangering lives and property. In the event of a stroke or heart attack, every minute that passes is critical. Paramedics have about only four minutes to get a human heart beating again. As a result of brownouts, rescue units must travel farther distances to reach stricken citizens, which can mean the difference between life and death.
We're insulted by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison's pronouncement in City Council that the Nutter administration will ... appeal the arbitrator's next contract award if it's similar to the last award (City Council budget hearing of April 11,, pages 297-298), despite the fact that we've gone three years without a new contract.
We're seething mad about Gillison's public statement that we should "turn in our gear and quit" if we don't like the city's policy of punishing firefighters by reassigning us, simply because we get burned on the face or neck in the line of duty. The Nutter administration is implying that firefighters are intentionally not wearing their gear properly. Are you kidding me? Do they really think we'd charge headlong into a burning building without affording ourselves of every protection available to us?
They also claim that the reassignments are for our own safety. We believe that the real motive is money. Every time a firefighter is burned or otherwise injured in the line of duty, the city's insurance premium rises. Essentially putting injured firefighters on the shelf is no more than a cost-savings move.
As a result of this punitive policy, firefighters are now trying to hide their burn injuries so that they won't face reassignment. By not reporting injuries out of fear of reprisal by the city, we may not know or be able to detect if faulty equipment may be playing a role in these burn injuries.
This is yet another indignity being heaped on the men and women who work 24/7 to protect the citizens of Philadelphia. When police officers are injured in the line of duty, they get honored. When firefighters get injured in the line of duty, we get reassigned. How is that fair?
Finally, our anger is about the city's aggressive indifference to our issues, which has forced us to make our outrage public. We will not relent in that effort until we are finally treated fairly. n
Bill Gault is the president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 22.