Fire Union Uses Facebook to Highlight Reduced Staffing

The Professional Fire Fighters of Londonderry Local 3160 posted on Facebook a “public safety alert” on Tuesday, July 29, stating what it termed  “Inadequate Emergency Service Staffing at Central Station (across from Londonderry High School). Engine 3 (located at Central Station) removed from service due to reduced staffing. Increased risk to public and (Fire Fighters) from 8 p.m. tonight until 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Numerous people commented on the Facebook alert from the union, and the union’s response emphasized that “no scare tactics are found on this page. Only factual information.”

The union Local highlighted the fact that from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., eight members are on duty across all three stations. The two members at Central staff the ambulance, which becomes the first out ambulance after 8 p.m. Those two Central members also staff the Rescue and Ladder Truck.” North and South station each have three members at night.

The Local response also clarified that during the day, “three members are assigned to each station (1 Lieutenant, 1 Firefighter/Paramedic, 1 Firefighter/EMT). This allows us to man 3 advance life support (ALS) ambulances and 3 ALS Fire Engine Companies on top of a Heavy Rescue and Ladder Truck, allowing us to provide the most effective and efficient care possible to our citizens. Due to budgetary constraints, the department drops a position at Central from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. This does not allow us to meet the standard for operating a Fire Engine with two members on it, therefore it is removed from service until 8 a.m. the following morning when we are staffed back to 9 members.”

Asked about the numbers, Battalion Chief James Roger said that although Engine 3 is not staffed, a priority system is used and if Engine 3 were needed, a person may be pulled from either remaining station – North or South – to staff the Engine and it would be used.

“It is not ‘out of service.’ If I need a 1000 gallon truck over a 300 gallon truck, it will be used,” Roger said.

Another posting, placed July 29 as well, states, “The ‘Top 3’ Facts of what Inadequate Staffing Levels mean to Londonderry: 1) Increased Safety Risk to Public, 2) Increased Safety Risk to Firefighters, 3) Increased Response Times.”

Londonderry Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said, however, that the public is not at risk.

“If we’re not here, on another call, the public will receive emergency response from a surrounding community. That’s what Mutual Aid is all about,” O’Brien said.

He said he was made aware of the Facebook posting after the fact.

“I was just made aware of that this morning (Wednesday, July 30),” he said. “It appears that the Local has now started posting bulletins on Facebook and whatever social media means are out there. You’re reading it the same way I am. I’m concerned. I have a message in to the union president and I’m hoping we can come to a resolution on this.”

O’Brien said the scheduling had been 10 persons during the day and nine at night since January and that thus far, everything “has gone just fine,” While he acknowledged those staffing numbers were not “ideal,” he said the department had to work within its budget.

According to Roger, the discrepancy – a drop down of 10 to 9 in the chief’s way of counting, or 9 to 8 in the Local’s figures – is based on whether the shift commander is counted.

Going from 10 to 9 personnel overnight includes counting the shift commander, who is in charge of the shift and is mobile and may, if the situation requires, “be present at an incident as Incident Commander,” Roger explained.

However, Local 3160 president, Fire Lieutenant James “Bo” Butler, uses a 9 to 8 overnight figure for personnel. “I count the union members’ boots on the ground personnel that are responding to the call,” he explained. “The Battalion Chief or Incident Commander isn’t actually physically fighting the fire or on an ambulance call.”

 “What we’ve done with our new budget cycle is the same as what we were doing at the end of last fiscal year, and that is dropping down to nine personnel (or with the union’s way of counting, eight) at night,” O’Brien said. “That basically addresses the budget concerns.

“It is the position of this department, along with the Town Manager, to stay within our operating budget this year s we’re trying some different things,” he added. “That is going to give me some trends on what was spent last year and this year. In the interim we are going to be staffing 10 during the day and nine at night.”

Contacted last week, Butler explained the Facebook posting by noting that “social media has the unique ability to reach out and capture a larger target audience than local news, whether that be cable access or newspapers, than ever before. Because of that, the Professional Firefighters of Londonderry Local 3160 have capitalized on this resource and will use it as a conduit to help educate and inform our citizens in live-time. Most people have smart phones and are using social media to connect, which allows us to reach out to as many citizens in Londonderry as possible.

“All information posted on the Professional Firefighters of Londonderry Local 3160’s Facebook page is factual; factual information is strong and solid,” he added. “Most importantly, factual information educates.”

Butler recalled that the Town Council provided direct constructive criticism last year to the union.

“They pointed out the fact that when it came to educating the public in the past, we’ve dropped the ball,” he said. “Quite frankly, they were absolutely right. We took that constructive criticism to heart and have since streamlined our approach to educating the public on who we are, what we do and what our mission is.

“Educating the public has become one of our top priorities,” he continued. “Since committing to this priority, I’ve been approached in grocery stores and around town by citizens who have thanked me and my members for providing them with the facts about their fire department – facts that they never knew before.”

Butler said many citizens didn’t know the fire department operated out of three stations or that every piece of responding apparatus is staffed with a Lieutenant, a Firefighter/Paramedic and a Firefighter/EMT (emergency medical technician).

“This is the highest level of pre-hospital care available in the state, and we provide it in Londonderry,” he noted. “We welcome and encourage our citizens to keep asking questions and get engage with us.”

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