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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.

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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