VIDEO: Overtime costs lead to Wilmington Fire station conditional closures

 

The controversial practice of "rolling bypass" or "conditional company closures" is back in effect in Wilmington following the fatal Canby Park fire.

Wilmington Firefighters Local 1590 Union President Bruce Schweiger said firefighter were informed of the decision to reinstate company closures Monday night.

"This dangerous policy comes into effect when overtimes are needed to cover vacancies on the fire department, it will shut down an engine company on different neighborhoods depending on the day of the week."

Schweiger said the decision came on the heels of what's been an emotional time for firefighters, who lost their brothers, Capt. Chris Leach and Lt. Jerry Fickes in a suspected arson at 1927 Lakeview Road.

"During that fire an engine company--located less than a half-mile away--was shut down that night," said Schweiger. "We can't continue to do more with less...it feels like Groundhog Day--every couple months we sit here and ask for support from the public, from the administration, and from the city to hear our message about our safety and the safety of the residents and the visitors of Wilmington."

But Chief Anthony Goode said the conditional company closures were suspended in the wake of their investigation into the fatal fire.

"An investigation found it had no impact on that specific fire and initial firefighter activities and response and suppression activities," Goode told WDEL.

"When you close a fire station, units have to travel along the distance, and everyone knows that when you travel a longer distance--every second is precious when you're dealing with emergencies and you're trying to save lives and properties," said Gabriel Padon, Jr., secretary of the Local 1590 union.

Goode said the conditional company closures are fiscally responsible.

"We're five months into the fiscal year, and we have another seven to go through--it's looking to be a significant winter...we have to control the overtime spending," said Goode. "We've exhausted the $500,000 overtime budget...for the operations division."

Schweiger said that's no excuse.

"We are understaffed. Hires should've been made--we should've probably already had a class in place," said the union president. "They're relying on these company closures to balance the budget."

Goode argued the Wilmington Fire Department is at appropriate staffing levels.

"To do a hiring process, conduct the recruitment and the subsequent class, to do so which is not a decision I would make as an administrator right now, would still take 6 to 8 months," he said.

Firefighters and their families held a protest outside the City/County building in Wilmington Tuesday afternoon.

"It's a roll of the dice...we know in our heads we have a dangerous job--our family knows that--but this policy just ups the ante on us and the citizens of Wilmington," said Schweiger.

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