Long Beach paid firefighters are accusing city leaders of working to eliminate the department through attrition and strip it of emergency medical response.
Firefighters rallied Monday at the Long Beach Knights of Columbus in response to heated negotiations with the city for several months. City officials have revamped the city's emergency services to focus more on emergency response separately from the paid fire department.
"They're looking to take [emergency medical services] away from us," Firefighter union president Bill Piazza said.
City officials are following recommendations of a $55,000-contracted emergency report by the Washington D.C. ICMA organization. The report issued this year recommended the city cut its paid fire department in half, but city officials said no layoffs are planned.
The city plans to hire eight paramedics to staff its three ambulances with paid and volunteer firefighters. Another secondary response ambulance will be provided by South Nassau Communities Hospital.
Five professional firefighters were laid off in February after a two-year $900,000 federal grant expired. The Professional Firefighters union has 19 remaining active firefighters and one executive. The city also has 150 volunteer firefighters.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman and Fire Commissioner Scott Kemins issued a "cease and desist" letter to the fire Union to cancel their media event last week, touting job security and increased medical response.
"The city's restructuring includes deploying more ambulances with certified paramedics, freeing our firefighters to maximize fire staffing on engines, all at a lower cost while avoiding layoffs," Schnirman said Tuesday . "It's hard to imagine why anyone would oppose this kind of progress."
Firefighters argued this week that the city's assessment of response times was incorrect. The report states that volunteer teams arrive within 30 seconds, but the fire union said its data analysis shows a three-minute delay. City officials stand by their report.
The union is seeking five-person crews on each engine. Schnirman said the city has guaranteed at least four-person teams on engines and increased staffing to 6-person shifts on duty, which meets safety regulations.
Piazza said having fewer than five firefighters violates OSHA regulations of having two people inside a building, two people waiting outside and a fifth firefighter staffing engine hose lines
But Kemins said, "a minimum of four firefighters on the engine is sufficient to protect the residents and the firefighters' safety. There will not be a situation where the paid company is required to refrain from entering a fire structure after the departmental restructuring."
The union is working without a contract and said it has offered concessions of reducing overtime, changing schedules and extending years for top pay schedules.
Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and City Councilman Anthony Eramo expressed support for the fire department, urging the union and the city to reach an agreement.
"I call on our city and the union to resume negotiations right away and determine if these concessions and a negotiated structure can put an end to the impasse over staffing levels," Eramo said.