City Not Allowed To Change Dispatch Procedure For Medical Calls

The collective bargaining agreement between Local 2215 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the City of Gardner, Massachusetts calls for a general procedure for the dispatch of medical calls. In February 2003, the City changed the processes by which calls were dispatched.

Under the prior method, all emercengy calls were routed to the police dispatch system. Police dispatchers determined whether the call was a fire or medical call; if so, the call would be sent to the Fire Department. Under the new process, the police dispatchers began calling for ambulance service first before notifying the Fire Department of the receipt of the call. At least in some instances, the Fire Department no longer spoke with callers.

The City argued that the dispatch article of the contract was unaffected by its decision since medical calls did not require a Fire Department response, either before or after the change in practices.

When Local 2215 challenged the City’s decision in arbitration, an arbitrator sided with the Local. The Arbitrator termed the change in dispatch procedure to be “substantive,” and believed that the ability of the Fire Department to speak on the phone with medical subjects had an impact on the manner in which members of the bargaining unit perform their duties. The Arbitrator also concluded that the fact that a return to the old policy might impact the duties of the Police Department was not dispositive; in the Arbitrator’s mind, the duties of various governmental agencies are often interrelated.

City of Gardner, Massachusetts, LAIG 6352 (Zuckerman, 2006).

This article appears in the July 2006 issue