Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Prov FF's frustrations over public perception


First of all no firefighter has ever said that we are the only dangerous profession. Secondly, when you look at the list of most dangerous jobs most of these professions are ones where the employee is as likely to die on the job as he/she is when driving to the neighborhood store. While I admire and acknowledge the inherent danger associated with fishermen, loggers, linemen, steel workers and pilots I don’t think they make a conscious choice to put themselves in harm’s way on a particular job – they simply go to work and do their dangerous work on a day-to-day basis. The one thing that I think all these professions have in common with firefighters is a passion for their job.

As for our military personnel, they are the most under compensated and under appreciated group in America – whether they are serving in a combat zone or just living in anticipation of being deployed there. At this moment in time our military members are well respected and thought of by the general public because we are at war in two separate arenas and there are considerable threats to peace elsewhere around the globe. This respect and admiration for these brave men and women will only last as long as the dangers of war are still in the headlines. The American public only has a headline news mentality.

Firefighters were considered brave members of our local communities for decades. They were also looked upon as less than educated and somewhat expendable. This perception would always change when tragedy struck the fire service – 12 firefighters killed in NYC, 5 killed in Buffalo, 5 killed in Boston, 6 in Worcester, etc. Then came 9/11; 343 FDNY firefighters were killed in the collapse of the WTC. Firefighters were revered as “America’s heroes”. When my wife said that it was about time that America’s citizens finally understood and appreciated what firefighters across the world do on a daily basis I told her, “This will only last for a few months. People will be complaining about how much we’re paid once again, wait and see”.

Obviously I was right. Oh, there are moments when (for a few days at least) public sentiment and appreciation return. Unfortunately it only occurs after another fire service tragedy such as the 9 firefighters killed in Charleston.

As for the “we just can’t afford you…”, statements look at the facts. This impasse has (almost) nothing to do with money – at least not money in the pockets of firefighters or union members. “The” deal-breaker for us from the very beginning has been staffing and manpower cuts which would severely endanger civilian lives as well as firefighter’s lives – and firefighter’s health and safety! Period.

The figures that the governor put out and Cicilline put out on the cost of firefighters is pure fiction. The only “out-of-control” cost relating to the fire department in Providence is overtime (which has gone down over the last 2 years). The reason it was out-of-control is that the city made a conscious decision that paying overtime was cheaper than hiring new firefighters when members retired.

To those of you who bash firefighters daily I say:

Talk to me after you’ve held numerous dead babies (including one whose face was bitten off by pitbulls). After you’ve done CPR on dying kids on the street who’ve been shot, stabbed, hit by cars, crushed by an elevator. After you’ve had to pry a hysterical, screaming, punching and distraught mother off your back so that you could enter her home, fully engulfed in flames, in an attempt to save her 8-month-old little boy – in vain. After you’ve stepped over the dead bodies of a mother and her 5 kids to put the fire out in her 3rd floor apartment. After you’ve contracted Hep C from a heroin user who bled all over you. After you’ve been directly exposed to HIV, Hep A, B & C, Tuberculosis, MRSA, and countless other direct and indirect medical exposures. After you’ve dug a barely breathing newborn from a feces and blood filled toilet only to find out later that the mother had AIDS. After you’ve “washed down” blood, bone and brain matter from the street so many times it’s no big deal. After a dying teenager holds your hand so tight you think it’s going to break while looking you in the eyes and begging that you don’t let him die – and having to lie to him.

I guess you get the picture. After you’ve done these things on your “job” feel free to publicly post your opinion that I am a greedy union member who only wants to retire at 42 and fleece the city’s taxpayers. I guess I didn’t get the memo because I’ve served the city’s taxpayers for 29 years and I’m over 50.

Do I resent your comments? You bet your @$$ I do! Do you have the right to voice them? Yes you do. But, as I’ve said from the very beginning, attack us with facts. We can defend ourselves against the facts because the fact is we are not overpaid, greedy or unreasonable when it comes to concessions in this tough economic time, which by the way, has been brought on by many factors but Providence firefighters are not one of them.

Lt. Tom Kenney
Providence Fire Department

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Inequities of the Coverage of Prov FF's

There have been many columns, editorials and letters-to-the-editor on the subject of firefighters in general, and Providence firefighters in particular since the US Conference of Mayors. These writings have been almost exclusively against the firefighters. I’ve counted at least fourteen against and only a single letter in favor of the firefighters – and that letter was written by me.

I have to voice my dissatisfaction with the number of letters or postings that ProJo has allowed to be printed or posted on their website. I know there have been many more letters sent on our behalf but they are not shown to the public. I believe there has been a conscious misrepresentation of the support of the Providence firefighters.

Most of all I have to voice my horror at the amount of misinformation and outright lies that have been printed in this paper and voiced in radio ads regarding our ongoing struggle with the mayor. When I wrote to one of their editors complaining that a quote in an editorial, “…firefighters oppose the mayor’s plan to pay a bit of their healthcare…” was inaccurate because Providence firefighters had been proposing a 15% co-pay of our healthcare costs for over three years his reply was, “…the article states that you oppose the mayor’s plan to pay a bit, not that you oppose paying a bit. There’s a difference.”

Is he kidding? Is this representative of the ProJo’s “impartial” stating of the facts? Is it any wonder that the general public sees the Providence firefighters under a less than favorable light? Under the circumstances I think it’s a credit to the professionalism Providence firefighters have shown (and continue to show) on a daily basis that all the fire stations in the city haven’t been burned to the ground.

As for the lies that Mayor Cicilline spews in his radio ads about Providence firefighters being the highest paid firefighters in the country, this is an outright lie. Providence firefighters are not even in the top three departments with regard to the highest paid firefighters in RI! The $132,000 per firefighter Cicilline claims that each Providence firefighter costs the city in salary and benefits is more like 70K to 79K per year, depending on rank and length of service. There ought to be a law that states that such lies cannot be broadcast on a public radio station. There ought to be a law that so-called large metropolitan newspapers be held accountable for printing the truth.

Providence firefighters will always be there for the citizens we serve. We only wish that they hear the facts of our dispute before they cast us as enemies of the state. Take the time to speak to a firefighter about the issues and if you still feel we’re being unreasonable and state your knowledgeable opinion we will listen. Rattling off false accusations spoon fed by politicians and editorial comments do nothing to help resolve this longstanding dispute.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mayor Cicilline & the 1st Amendment


Who has ever heard of PVA’s in Providence. Oh, excuse me, that’s Public Viewing Areas. This is an area where people can be assured that their 1st Amendment right to free speech will be honored and protected.

These areas are where the Cicilline administration would like the citizens to gather to voice their protests. This way they can guarantee your safety – and the safety of the rest of the citizens and visitors in Providence. Imagine if protesters were actually allowed to picket on the public sidewalks in front of the RI Convention Center. Fire trucks, Rescues and Police cars would be totally unable to negotiate around the city. Traffic would be snarled, pedestrians would be confused and planes would be stacked up at the airport.

How thoughtful of Mayor Cicilline. He would never want to have it said that he wasn’t allowing the firefighters of Providence (or other concerned yet frustrated citizens) to exercise their right to free speech. That would be unconstitutional.

Doesn’t it seem just a little suspicious that there was never any talk of a plan to limit access of protesters at the Mayor’s Convention until the day before the event and immediately after the Providence firefighter’s union announced plans to picket the mayor. This so-called liberal mayor is fine with protesters exercising their right to gather and march until the target of their complaints is the mayor himself.

Constitutional protection as long as it’s convenient!

In addition to trampling on the firefighter’s rights by corralling them into designated pens away from the Convention Center, this mayor also used his authority to use taxpayer’s money to pay firefighters to stay away from the picket line. He ordered over 50 firefighters each day of the convention to walk through designated areas (away from the Convention Center of course) monitoring for biological weapons! These firefighters were ordered to work – they had no choice. They were told to wear casual clothes – no uniforms. They were paid overtime rates to do this.
Funny thing about these firefighters monitoring for biological weapons…they only monitored during the hours of the pickets! Maybe Cicilline was concerned about the safety of the firefighters who were picketing!

Mayor Cicilline clearly has no problem with abusing the powers of his office for his own selfish motives. This week his political muscles were flexed against the firefighters. Next week he will be trampling over the rights of another group who disagree with his policies. Every week, however, he betrays the taxpayers of the City of Providence. He reminds me of the spoiled little brat who owns the ball and will take it and go home unless he gets his way. How surprising!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Questions for Mayor Cicilline

Mayor David Ciclline is fond of stating that he is a watchdog for the taxpayers of Providence. He continues to watch over every dollar spent by the city and makes the necessary cuts (no savings is too small to be overlooked) to save the city money.

If so, please ask David these questions.

Why did you spend $25K on a manpower study to justify your staffing cuts in the Providence Fire Department over 2 years ago but not release it yet? Your stance claims that cutting FF staffing will not affect public safety and this study was meant to prove your claim. If it proved that staffing could be cut, I’m sure you would have released it long ago. This is a public record paid for by the taxpayers of Providence yet you refuse to release it even after Local 799 has processed a claim with the courts.

Why is it that you could have gotten over 2 years worth of co-share concessions (that could have saved the city millions) from the firefighters but refused to take the offer?

Why is it that after the city received the benefit of increasing the co-pays for RX’s and Dr’s visits for Providence firefighters and their families by an arbitrator it took over a year and a half for you to begin collecting these payments? This cost the city millions of dollars because these payments were paid directly by the city. This oversight(?) was only discovered when the city asked for a bid for city healthcare management by United Health. United Health discovered this costly mistake.

Why is it that over 58 firefighters were paid overtime to walk around the city in plainclothes the entire time that Local 799’s picket was marching. The stated reason was that they were guarding against and monitoring for a possible biological attack. Was this an attempt to keep these 58 members off the picket line? If not why did you not have them continually monitor after the pickets were done for the day? How much did this cost the taxpayer?

Why was there extra police (more than ever before for a convention or rally in Providence) on duty at the same time the pickets were going on? How much did this cost the taxpayers?

Providence Mayor's Conference Picketing

Providence firefighters are planning to picket at the upcoming Mayor’s Conference. This is a fact. Providence firefighters have been without a negotiated contract for the entire 7 ½ years David Cicilline has been the Mayor of Providence. Fact. Mayor Cicilline has been aware of Local 799’s plans to picket at his conference for over a year. Fact. The mayor has refused to sit with the leadership of the union at any time during this entire year. Also a fact.

Unfortunately this is where the facts end concerning the so-called information that is being quoted by many who are in the public eye. These individuals and institutions are expected to speak the truth in order to uphold their obligation to the public. This has not been the case regarding this issue.

Providence Journal’s editorial page states that “…Providence’s firefighters oppose the mayor’s plan to have them pay a bit of their health care costs…”. This is untrue. All of Local 799’s contract proposals over the past few years have included a proposal which includes health care co-shares. This fact is also printed in their own newspaper on a different page!

It has been widely reported that Providence firefighters are unwilling to discuss changes to staffing and pension issues. Not so. The fact is that the union and the city differ on the specific changes to be made, but this is what “negotiations” are supposed to be about.

John DePetro blatantly spews misinformation regarding Providence firefighter’s contract and working conditions on his morning radio show on a daily basis. Just this morning he repeatedly stated that Providence firefighters were offering a 1% - 2% co-share of health coverage in retirement. Not true. The real percentage offered by Local 799 was approximately 12%.

Cicilline has attempted to claim that Providence firefighters are the highest compensated firefighters in the country. False. In fact, Providence firefighters are not even the highest compensated firefighters in the state.

Cicilline has claimed that his proposals regarding staffing concessions will not affect the safety of the citizens of Providence. The fact is that he proposes to take 9 firefighters per shift off the trucks, allowing all fire apparatus in the city to fall below the NFPA standard – for a start. How can that not have an effect on public safety?

Cicilline portrays Providence firefighters as “holding the citizens of Providence hostage” and of being “extortionists”. How absurd. In fact Providence firefighters have a history of offering one-time pay freezes and a one-time giveback of a vacation week due to the City’s poor financial status – and that was before he took office when it wasn’t the norm for employees to do so.

Firefighters can’t be expected to make any one-time concessions at the present time because they’re currently working on an arbitrated contract which is over 4 years behind already.

Providence firefighters are ready and willing to be part of the solution to our present situation. We only wish (and would expect) to be held accountable for our proposals; for the facts. We can’t defend ourselves against intentional(?) misinformation and lies being spread about us. I can’t tell you how many times over the past few days that strangers and acquaintances have told me how unreasonable my union is being on this issue only to completely change their opinion after I present them with the real facts.

This is all we are expecting – let us be judged on the facts.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cicilline: Believe Him or Not(?)

Let’s get this straight. The former Tax Collector in Providence states that on numerous occasions he was pressured to give preferential treatment to friends of and contributors to Mayor Cicilline – including not cashing a $75,000 bad check written by the mayor’s brother.

1) The mayor himself acknowledges that he stepped in on behalf of these friends and contributors.

2) Two (not just one, but two) senior staff members of the mayor state that they spoke to the mayor regarding his brother’s bad check.

3) According to one of these mayor’s aides, the mayor simply stated (about the $75,000 check), “Why would he do something like that?”, but did not even give the aide any instruction as to how to handle the situation.

4) This above mentioned Tax Collector was put on paid leave shortly after a ProJo story reported the mishandling of the mayor’s brother’s check, yet the mayor states that “management deficiencies” on behalf of the Tax Collector had convinced the mayor to get rid of him just prior to the ProJo story – even though he (the mayor) took no action toward this end until after the ProJo story triggered a possible corruption investigation in the Cicilline administration.

The statements above are the reported series of events regarding the Tax Collector’s Office under the Cicilline Administration. Inventoried on the following list are the explanations of these reported facts by Mayor Cicilline.

1) The mayor states that there have been no improprieties in this area by himself or his staff. According to the mayor, “Campaign contributions should not disqualify someone from relief from unfair treatment”.

We are left to take the mayor’s word that despite the “appearance” of preferential treatment, there was none

2) The mayor’s “explanation” to these official statements made to authorities investigating possible corruption under the Cicilline Administration. “I told him (former Chief-of-Staff Christopher Bizzacco) that I know that you think that we had a conversation about this (John Cicilline’s $75,000 check) but you’re mistaken.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that the mayor was informed about his brother’s bad check early on in the process, we are left to accept the mayor’s explanation that he remembers what didn’t happen and that two of his top aides are mistaken in their remembrance of what they say did happen.

3) The mayor’s non-committal as to a plan of action regarding his brother’s bad check left the decision as to whether or not to go after the brother of the man who controls their employment squarely on the shoulders of his aides. This ‘dodging of the tough decisions’ is not the type of leadership we need from our elected officials.

This type of action is, however, exactly the type of behavior one would expect by a person who wanted the “issue” to disappear but did not wish to go “on record” as to having been responsible for the decision.

4) The suspension of the Tax Collector after the ProJo story accused the mayor of inappropriate interference on behalf of his friends and contributors would seem to be nothing more than political retribution. The mayor, however, states that the decision to replace the Tax Collector was made before the story broke – he had simply not shared this decision with anyone else.

We are forced to believe the mayor at his word on this issue, despite the obvious conclusion one would arrive at after reviewing the chain of events.

The only way to avoid the acceptance that there was, at minimum, inappropriate behavior and possibly full-fledged corruption in the Cicilline Administration is to accept the word of the mayor over the word of his former Tax Collector; to accept the word of the mayor over the word of two (2) of his top aides; to accept the word of the mayor over common sense regarding a seemingly political retaliation on his part against the person who began the allegations against him.

For myself, I don’t have that type of blind belief in David Cicilline. I have personal knowledge of lies he has boldly told in the past.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Governor's Irresponsible Proposals

The Governor’s Irresponsible Proposals

In the year 2012 (or so) former RI Governor Donald Carcieri will be the defendant in a wrongful death suit brought by the widow of a RI firefighter, police officer or the family members of multiple fire victims.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers of RI, a wrongful death suit will also be brought against the State of RI and a city or town to be named later by the same victims.

The exact legal issues and the time frame stated here are not written in stone, but the fact that people will die in this state as the result of Governor Carcieri’s proposed changes in his supplemental budgetary proposals is, in my opinion, only a matter of when, who and how many people will die. The changes he proposes are far-reaching and very dangerous, not to mention completely irresponsible.

Public Safety is not a convenience; it is a necessity, and should always be a priority – not only when the economy is flourishing. In fact, when the economic climate is at its worst is when the greatest demands are placed on both police and fire departments.

For those of you who may not be aware of the changes the governor is proposing that would trigger a chain of consequences that would result in decreased public safety throughout the state of RI (particularly in fire departments), I will attempt to connect the dots.

First of all, the governor’s proposed supplemental budget cuts millions of dollars in promised state aid to RI’s cities and towns. This is a substantial amount of money per town. Mayors and Town Managers throughout the state are already publicly stating that layoffs of municipal workers are the most likely place to cut such an amount from their budgets. This, in itself, is a matter of great concern. RI’s unemployment level is already the 2nd highest in the nation. These types of layoffs would certainly gain us the dubious distinction of being #1 once again.

The sole ‘safety valves’ in the present system that could keep desperate Mayors and Town Managers from ravaging their public safety personnel, to a more dangerously critical level than they are at present, are the minimum staffing provisions in the respective CBA’s (Collective Bargaining Agreements) with their police and fire unions. If not for these provisions, there would be nothing to safeguard the minimum number of firefighters or police officers on the street at any given time.

Governor Carcieri, being well aware of the minimum staffing levels in public safety contracts, has also proposed that police and fire unions be allowed collective bargaining and the right to “binding” arbitration on issues that cannot be resolved via negotiations. Police and fire unions already have these ‘rights’ under RI law. Governor Carcieri is, however, proposing changes to these rights as currently enforced.

He proposes that the right to “binding” arbitration remain intact for monetary issues regarding salaries and benefits. He wants to take away the union’s right to “binding” arbitration regarding minimum staffing levels, minimum equipment levels, and deployment of personnel issues. In other words he wants to put the question of how many police officers or firefighters are on duty at one time into the hands of the politicians. He wants to give the politicians the right to close fire stations (by not replacing worn out Engine companies or Ladder companies). He wants to allow politicians to double up police officers and cut the number of vehicles responding to calls in half – or worse.

His irresponsible handling of the State’s fiscal crisis is putting the cities and towns in desperate financial shape. They have been put in a position where the only options afforded them are to raise taxes or to cut services. These types of choices are never easy but, no matter how desperate the economic climate, we should never allow our citizens to be placed in harm’s way to help balance some politician’s budget.