WATERTOWN, NY – A new procedure went into effect last week that’s designed to make sure the fire department has adequate supervision during fires and other serious incidents.
Fire Chief Dale C. Herman said that battalion chiefs now have the ability to “elevate” firefighters to the role as captains on an as needed basis.
The directive for the new Standard Operating Procedure — or SOP — came from City Manager Sharon A. Addison as a result of eight captains who were made into firefighters back in July, Chief Herman said.
Battalion chiefs will decide whether the elevated captains are needed, depending on the situation, Chief Herman said.
“It’s all situational,” he said.
Elevated captains will be paid a $.94 an hour pay differential for the entire shift, Chief Herman said. Daytime firefighters working 10-hour shifts now make $9.40 more a shift before taxes, while firefighters working 14 hours during a night shift earn $13.16 more a shift.
Ms. Addison and Chief Herman met a few weeks ago to iron out the SOP, which was basically being used since July.
“This codifies it in writing,” she said, adding that it includes “some minor adjustments.”
But Daniel Daugherty, the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191, called the procedure “a mess” because firefighters don’t know if they’re going to be an officer “at any moment.”
“The city wants it cake and eat it, too,” he said, adding that the city doesn’t want to pay firefighters what they deserve as officers.
Although he doesn’t know of another fire department utilizing the strategy like this, Chief Herman said the department uses a variation. When a battalion chief is on vacation or not on duty, captains “are assigned” as a battalion chief and firefighters are “elevated” to a captain.
Rather than planning for those situations, elevated captains can happen at a moment’s notice, depending on the situation or the call, Chief Herman said.
The new SOP was devised as an alternative for making changes to the department’s deployment model involving its fleet of fire and rescue trucks. By using the new SOP, the same number of vehicles will be able to respond to fire and emergency calls.
Battalion chiefs can either use preferred lists from eight former captains who lost their supervisory positions or from a promotional list of firefighters, he said. Eight captains were initially demoted to firefighters by the city on July 1. Since then, the city has contended the captains were never demoted but laid off and brought back as firefighters.
The city made the change with the eight captains to save about $100,000 a year.
Amid a bitter, two-year contract dispute with the city, the firefighters bargaining unit has filed for arbitration and impasse over the action against the eight captains to the rank of firefighter.
The union plans to make a legal argument about the new SOP in its arbitration case, Mr. Daugherty said.