YONKERS, NY – The city firefighters union has again thwarted the mayor’s plan to cut its responsibilities for responding to medical emergencies, at least for now.
A state justice in White Plains on Wednesday upheld a temporary restraining order issued Friday that barred Yonkers from eliminating its Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services program starting Jan. 1.
State Supreme Court Justice Sam Walker said he will leave it up to an independent arbitrator to decide by the end of February whether the city should be allowed to carry out that cost-cutting plan. Lawyers for the city and the union are due before Walker on Feb. 27, while the order remains in effect.
The union has argued that cutting the EMS program would endanger residents by delaying medical care. Union officials say firefighters are often quicker to arrive at medical emergencies than the city’s private EMS service.
The city’s attorneys contend that Empress EMS is well-equipped to take the lead on first-responder duties. They say the Fire Department typically responds to only about 45 percent of medical emergencies throughout the city, whereas Empress responds to all of them.
The two sides are due before an arbitrator Tuesday to resolve a related dispute over Mayor Mike Spano’s plan to cut costs by lowering the minimum staffing level from 57 to 48 firefighters per tour before replacements can be brought in at higher pay. A temporary restraining order issued last year bars that plan from taking effect.
On Wednesday, the city’s attorney sought to have the dispute on cutting EMS decided at the same arbitration hearing devoted to minimum staffing, but Walker kept the matters separate. Spano hailed the decision to resolve the EMS issue through expedited arbitration.
“This stops the stonewalling and requires the firefighters union to come to the table before an arbitrator,” the mayor said. “That’s what the taxpayers need, and now they will get it.”
Barry McGoey, the union president, denied that his group is stonewalling, adding that firefighters have been ready to put the staffing issue before an arbitrator since the fall.