EAST GREENWICH, RI — The East Greenwich Town Council voted 4-1 Monday to restructure the fire department by changing firefighter schedules and eliminating six positions.
The plans are still subject to change, pending a court decision next month.
“They have to decide if they want to pay firefighters overtime to work crazy hours, or do they want to hire the appropriate staff that they need,” said William Perry, who is the president of International Association of Firefighters Local 3328.
Perry said eliminating positions will risk the safety of firefighters and the public.
But members of the Town Council said overtime costs are too high and restructuring will save the town money.
“This council does not want to kick this problem down the road, so we are taking it step-by-step and being very deliberate and doing out due diligence,” said Active Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.
Corrigan says the town is budgeting to pay out $1.2 million in firefighter overtime this year.
On Monday, the council voted to restructure firefighter schedules from a 48-hour work week to a 56-hour work week.
But Perry said some of the 36 firefighters are working 60 to 70 hours per week because some are off or injured.
“They haven’t conducted any type of study into the 56-hour work week, yet they take a vote tonight to put us into a 56-hour work week,” Perry said.
The vote would also allow six positions to be eliminated.
“We have 15 departments in the town and when you see one department that consistently runs over budget, by 220 percent if I’m correct, that is the first department that jumps out at you,” said Council President Suzanne McGee Cienki.
All of the changes are pending a May 14 court ruling in which a judge will decide if the town can break the 2016 union contract to impose the change.
Councilman Mark Schwager, who was the only one to vote against the changes, said litigation won’t solve the problem.
“At some point, we have to sit down and talk with the firefighters,” Schwager said. “It’s very unlikely there is going to be a sweeping decision that’s going to solve this problem.”
Perry said hiring more firefighters could help cut down on overtime costs.
“They could hire two floaters per shift with a cost of half the overtime budget,” he said.
Council members said the vote is not permanent and changes can still be made.