CHICAGO, IL – Touching on what could become a hot-button issue in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s upcoming negotiations with the firefighters union, Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff said Tuesday that fire-related fatalities would rise if the city reduces the number of firefighters per truck.
Hoff said he is “adamant” in his opposition to lowering the minimum staffing on all trucks to four — a five-person minimum is now in place on most trucks and engines — to save money in coming years.
“Number one, it affects our performance,” Hoff said, explaining his opposition to the change at a hearing on Emanuel’s proposed budget. “And number two, it (affects) the lives of firefighters and paramedics and the people that we serve. Our fire deaths will go up.”
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has said that lowering the standard would save about $57 million a year, while also noting such a reduction could pose a safety hazard in an urban area like Chicago.
Nevertheless, the idea has been thrown around City Hall with about eight months left on the contract for rank-and-file city firefighters. The current contract spells out staffing levels.
Hoff also said he opposes a host of other potential changes that could be the subject of union negotiations.
“Any decrease in manning, any decrease in fire companies, ambulances or closing of firehouses, I’m literally deathly against,” said Hoff, a decorated Fire Department veteran who was appointed by then-Mayor Richard Daley in June 2010.
Emanuel has not touched on the issue of minimum truck staffing, but he has called on unions to make work-rule changes in their contracts to save money.
During a later budget hearing Tuesday, Dr. Bechara Choucair, the city’s public health commissioner, revealed that another 155 workers at the city’s seven health clinics could find themselves on the job market come June.
They will be laid off as the city sends its 29,000 patients to federally sanctioned clinics where they can be seen for at least $100 less per visit, for a total city savings of $10 million, Choucair said.
Aldermen expressed concern about the pay scales at the clinics and whether they would hire any of the laid-off city employees. They also questioned a plan to cut in half — to six — the number of city mental health clinics that now treat about 5,100 patients.
Choucair said the changes would allow the city to hire one more full-time psychiatrist and continue treating all patients without insurance. Some with Medicaid or other insurance would be sent to community mental health clinics, he said.
From The Chicago Tribune.