Judge Sides with Mayor, Ladder 1 to Remain Browned Out

Judge Bennett Gallo denied an injunction to put Ladder 1 back into permanent service at Superior Court on Wednesday.

PROVIDENCE - Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo ruled that there was no public safety risk to firefighters or residents in Woonsocket as a result of the removal of Ladder Truck 1 and the reduction of the minimum amount of firefighters on duty from 26 to 23 on Wednesday afternoon.

It marked the end of a trial that has drawn on for the past 2 1/2 months.

He said that the plaintiff, Local 732, did not prove immediate, irreparable harm was caused by the removal of Ladder Truck 1 and the reduction in firefighting staff.  Therefore, he would not grant an injunction to put Ladder 1 and its three man crew back on permanent duty. 

“On the evidence presented,” said Gallo, “I’m unable to discern any measurable decrease in the firefighting capabilities of the Woonsocket Fire Department or any increase risk to the firefighters of Woonsocket or to the public regarding,” the removal of Ladder 1 and the reduction in manpower.

Daniel Kinder, the primary lawyer for the city, stated in his closing remarks that the experience of the past three months proved that safety was not a concern.   He said that since the policy to remove Ladder 1 from service whenever less than 26 firefighters reported for duty was implemented on January 30, there has been no firefighter injuries, no change in firefighter response times, no harm to the public and no harm to any mutual aid firefighter.

“Speculative injury can not form the basis of an injunction,” said Kinder.

The policy was put in place to save the city an estimated $250,000 over six months, according to Mayor Leo Fontaine.

Much of Local 732’s argument was based on speculation that injury might occur to firefighters or to the public due to slow response times from mutual aid companies, incompatible equipment such as breathing apparatus and radios and the possibility that a Rescue Intervention Team, which was one of the main responsibilities of Ladder 1, might not be available to rescue a downed firefighter.

“An arbitrator who’s going to hear this can’t go backwards in time to send Ladder 1 to the fire that could have used them,” said the union’s counsel, Marc Gursky.  Gursky was referring to the fact that an arbitrator who handles collective bargaining disputes won’t be able to account for safety concerns.

However, Judge Gallo did not see any safety concerns in this issue.  He remarked that Woonsocket remains one of the two best-staffed fire departments in the state and that they can always call for mutual aid if a second ladder truck is needed.  He noted that the actual ladder on Ladder 1 was only used for 35 hours in 2010.  He agreed that for a city facing a financial crisis that this was a prudent cut.

“If we had an engine and a ladder on every corner in Woonsocket, it would be great,” said Gallo, “I’m sure it would lessen the risk on everyone, but if we put them on every other corner are we doing irreparable damage, are we exposing firefighters to risk?  I don’t think so.”

“I don’t think the plaintiffs [Local 732] have made the case to grant them an injunction in this court,” said Gallo.

After the proceedings the 10 firefighters that had gathered to listen to the verdict kept their heads up despite the decision.

“We respect the judge’s decision,” said Local 732 President Christopher Oakland, but “We’re disappointed that the Chief and Public Safety Director would put safety of firefighters and citizens in jeopardy.”

The decision would not affect how Woonsocket’s firefighters do their job, according to Oakland.

“We’re professional firefighters, we’ll do the best we can with the resources we have,” said Oakland.

Mayor Leo Fontaine was pleased that Judge Gallo ruled that there was no safety risk posed to the city by cutting out Ladder 1 and lowering the minimum manning number to 23 firefighters.  He said he hoped that future policy could be implemented after face-to-face negotiations with the union.

“It’s unfortunate we found ourselves in this situation at all,” said Fontaine.  “I think we’ll all be better off sitting around a negotiating table rather than sitting around a court room.  I hope [the administration] and the firefighters can find a mutual solution.”

Fontaine said these were the primary cuts from the firefighters’ budget for this fiscal year, but that for the next fiscal year he hopes to change shifts to a 24-hour schedule, which he has said may include a .

Fontaine and the firefighters’ union are currently in negotiations on a new contract.  They will be having their next session sometime next week.

“We’re not out of the woods with regards to the fiscal crisis,” said Fontaine.

Don L. April 14, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Taxes will still go up anyways! Wake up, you lemmings!
Don L. April 14, 2011 at 04:01 PM
I don't understand how us taxpayers can be happy with any of this? This ladder truck being down is a temporary fix anyway and will be back in full service on July 1. Big deal the judge sided with the city. Taxpayers paid enormous lawyer fees (still don't know how much), and this is now going into arbitration. We stand to lose much more when we have to pay out for lost wages and we'll keep paying when their pensions increase due to the restructure in the long run. What the hell is going on?
Seymour April 14, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Congratulations Don for realizing there is more here than meets the eye. I'll admit that I don't fully understand all of it. But I'm starting to think there is a bigger agenda here and this doesn't seem to be about saving money at all.
Pete April 14, 2011 at 04:22 PM
I agree with Scott wholeheartedly but let's not forget what former Indiana prosecutor Carlos F Lam said to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker that caused him to resign; “If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions’ cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions,” Lam said in his email. Certainly, there are no physical attacks occurring but this type of "false flag" operation could easily be undertaken on an anonymous message board.
Don L. April 14, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Let us not forget that in this country it is not only permissible to question our leaders it's our responsibility!  People want leadership, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.
Taxpayer Applicant April 14, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Questioning our administration during these arduous times, severely cripples their ability to save taxpayer money. These men and women were elected to their positions. The constituents trusted the officials during election time, why second-guess or limit them now? I understand Reformer's position. These times are unprecedented. Our administration, like average citizen, taxed2death, and Yvette, know the steps we need to take to achieve fiscal sustainability. I am appalled at the notion that some of you Patch-lovers would insinuate or state directly that our ELECTED leaders would do anything but the absolute best thing for our city.
Taxpayer Applicant April 14, 2011 at 05:42 PM
I'm not sure if you are serious about Darfur, but if so (and this is a long shot), did you happen to meet anyone from the Terbajah Tribe? They are a truly amazing group of people. I only mention them because I spent a summer volunteering there when I was a sophomore in college.
Erin B. April 14, 2011 at 06:05 PM
I believe I understand the sentiment of making government more efficient and effective. That's all well and good. However, governance, let alone drastic measures, should NEVER come from the will of one person in power. Think about that when you disagree with something an elected official does. By your comments, you are seemingly advocating central aspects of facism whether intentionally or not. From the dictionary definition for facism: "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism..." Nevertheless, I don't believe that the Mayor should be the one anyone should be asking or trusting about public safety and the on-the-ground impact of the removal of this ladder truck from service. He's not an expert in public safety. I believe that the fire department should have been consulted more extensively prior to this whole mess, however. If the fire department (arguably the best informed about the safety risks presented by not having this truck) couldn't make a case for itself then who else could? I'm not saying there aren't risks, just that the judge had to go by the merit of the case and this is the result of not presenting a satisfactory argument to counter the City's.
Erin B. April 14, 2011 at 06:17 PM
History has taught us that our elected leaders are just like everyone else and don't always do the "absolute best thing." First, it is IMPOSSIBLE to know beforehand if something will be the "best" down the line. We can only give our best educated guess. Second, Rhode Island is certainly no stranger to corruption in government, which can't possibly be the "absolute best thing" that our elected officials could be doing. To not question the rationale of any government move is to regard elected leaders as perfect human beings. If elected officials, by default, become perfect upon election then I must wonder why we keep hearing about corruption and the like in government. Please have one of these elected officials explain it to me so I can understand.
Heart A-tax April 14, 2011 at 06:42 PM
A judge will not rule on a contractual issue . The arbitration process is required to solve contract violations .
Heart A-tax April 14, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Insurance rates on residential units will be affected minimally . It is commercial real estate that will get hit the hardest . Wait until CVS gets their bill !!!
Sandy Phaneuf April 15, 2011 at 01:12 AM
A blogger out of DC picked up this story: http://statter911.com/2011/04/13/who-to-believe-judge-in-rhode-island-professor-in-georgia-come-to-different-conclusions-about-a-connection-between-safety-firefighter-staffing/
Sandy Phaneuf April 15, 2011 at 03:43 AM
Just to clarify: this is not to say I agree with or endorse this or any opinion. I will happily repost any pieces I see done about the city, especially when our news, and this website, make headlines across the nation.
Don L. April 15, 2011 at 04:21 AM
I wonder how many articles from the Call are referenced in other publications or on other websites across the nation? Probably not many, eh? Nice job, Patch reporters!
mark April 15, 2011 at 04:51 AM
I am a Union Firefighter. I am tired of people blaming the current financial situation on the unions. The truth is the major financial institutions took money from the states and our pensions and invested them in the same mortgage bundles that collapsed the housing market. Now the republican lie machine is blaming the union's for being too expensive. So lets follow the $$. Republican's know that democrats rely on the unions for there campaign contributions so kill the union and cripple there opponent's. Furthermore 400 people in this country have more money than 50% of the population and pay less in taxes. GE earned 14 BILLON profit, and received over 3 billion in refunds, no taxes paid....none, and they STILL sent jobs out of the country. Cutting costs and programs is not only one way to fix debt, the other way is to make more money. We need to tax the rich. I don't mean excessively, just stop giving them breaks and cuts hoping they will have a grinch like moment and give some back, they haven't, they wont. Get more taxes and pay the debt!!!
lorrie scullin April 15, 2011 at 10:51 AM
Actually, Mark, before the major financial institutions messing up money, it was G.W. Bush and his war in Iraq -- can you think back prior to the Iraq War and how nobody was complaining about this being cut or that being cut...Remember the old saying -- crap rolls down hill and so, it rolled from Washington, DC right down to Woonsocket, RI. My whole problem with the union thing is in private industry, those of us who are non-union, we are not asked if they can increase costs for benefits or take benefits away or let us go, they just do. I think that is what is the hardest thing for us taxpayers to swallow. I got wacked with a $50 per month increase in my health insurance but have less to show for it and I, along with my coworkers were not asked to vote on it -- it is just "hear you go, don't like it, well then leave."
Bonnie April 15, 2011 at 12:57 PM
With all due respect to you Lorrie, clearly you do not understand the union process. You make it seem like unions get everything handed to them and because you work in private industry you do not. Employees in private industry have the ability to negotiate their pay and benefits just as unions employees due. If you have not done so for yourself, you have no one but yourself to blame. For the record I am NOT a union employee.
King Jammy April 15, 2011 at 02:19 PM
You are right Mr Evans I think everyone needs a little dynamite put under there seats and wake up
JRichard April 15, 2011 at 04:29 PM
With all due respect Bonnie, I'm going with Lorrie on that one...if you are not a union employee, then you understand that in non union employment, you are negotiating for yourself ONLY. If you make even half the demands unions make, unless your are critical to the business at the moment, you will be told to take the DOOR! Unions on the other hand, negotiate for the entire group....more of a hostage situation. I don't know how you can compare the two, especially being a NON UNION employee.
mark April 15, 2011 at 05:09 PM
The town I work for as a Firefighter has us paying 20% of our health care costs, which I think is fair. When blue cross raised there rates 50% in one year our costs went up 50% too. The interesting thing is those who make the laws about benefits have them for free for life just for being in for just one term. And the insurance companies make sure there campaign contributions keep us paying more and more.
Don L. April 15, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Look everyone, we can go on and on forever about the whole "union, non-union" debate. As a taxpayer in this city, my major concern right now is, how much did we pay or how much do we continue paying the city's lawyers? How much will we pay out if an arbitrator rules that the city owes the firefighters lost wages? How much will their pay increase as a result of a restructure? How much will their pensions increase as a result also? Wake up people! Please get on board and pressure this administration to give us this information! This is complete nonsense to keep this hidden from us. There has to be some sort of hidden agenda for their withholding details from us?
Bill April 15, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Does anybody own a scanner? Listen to how often trucks from other towns are coming into the city. How is this fair to the taxpayers of those towns? They manage to keep their towns staffed to answer their calls most of the time without assistance. Woonsocket has out of town trucks EVERY day!
Jerry April 15, 2011 at 09:47 PM
If you listen to the scanner, you will find that the police dept get a lot more calls than the Fire dept. What are you talking about Don L? The city has always used lawyers. Why don't you ask the Fire dept why they aren't giving up concessions like ALL THE OTHER UNIONS DID. Are they exempt from doing their part? I don't think so. Maybe the city would save lawyer's fees if the fire union didn't feel so "entitled".
Don L. April 15, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Uh, Jerry, do you think that the issue with the fd is the only thing we are paying our tax money to lawyers for? Are you really that foolish? Drink up all that Kool aid and don't leave a drop. We are being soaked for much more than just the ladder 1 thing. Do you not care about that though? Is your only concern in life that the ff's give up more? Do you think the police need to give up more also? What will make Jerry happy here? When will Jerry stand up at the council meeting and pressure the mayor and Ward to give is details of all the legal matters this city is involved in and how much we're paying for it? Stand up Jerry. Stand up or go back to bed. You, and your way of thinking, are part of the problem and not providing any valid information or meaningful solutions here. Just, "the firefighters have to give more" blah blah blah.
Vince Neil April 15, 2011 at 10:58 PM
@Jerry, what exactly does the fact that the police do more calls than the Fire Dept. have to do with the price of tea in China? Try to make some sense here. Plus, do you listen to local talk radio much? The Fire Dept. is currently in talks with the city trying to work something out. Sounds like both sides are making progress too.
AxeAdcox April 15, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Jerry you are just another uneducated part of the problem. why don't you first start off by comparing apples to apples. You probably don't remember, because you weren't interested in the city. Being that times were good and Susan was pulling the wool over your eyes. But the police had it pretty bad. The mayor then, had it out for them. They operated with out a contract for quite some time. All because Susan was gunning for them. Now Fontaine has it out for the Fire Dept. Realize though, that Fontaine is still pulling on that wool. Fontaine has done an excellent job of directing the public's anger onto the Fire Dept. and completely off of him. It should not be left on the Fire Dept. to balnce the city's budget because Fontaine and the City Council are mismanaging the city. Keep in mind that Fontaine was required to turn in a balanced budget. Which he did not. If he did, he wouldn't be after the Fire Dept. to make concessions. Also remember that the Fire Dept. made concessions last fiscal year. Is it right to just keep asking the unions for concessions year after year, even after they bargained in good faith and the mayor and city council agreed to the contracts?
Jerry April 17, 2011 at 01:17 AM
Hey axe, fire didn't give any concessions last year...if you call deferring a raise a concession, then go back to school. Is it fair that all the other unions gave concessions and fire should be exempt? Yes, there are bigger problems, let's go after welfare bennies and fraud. Then Don, we could all drink the koolaid.
waxed2death April 17, 2011 at 02:06 AM
Jerry, notice how you seem to be the only one coming back here to stir up more nonsense? It's about time you let go of all your resentment for failing the fire test. Let it go, bro. Move on to the bigger things you speak of, like "welfare bennies and fraud." Those are the things not only bringing this community down, but are affecting this whole country! It was on Larry's show this week that the city and fire seem to be in talks so let it go and see what comes of it. This stuff is gonna eat you alive. Seek help!
My thoughts April 17, 2011 at 04:57 PM
You keep changing your name waxed, maybe you and everyone could use some help...lol
waxed2death April 17, 2011 at 05:29 PM
My real name is gene


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