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Garden City firefighters union denied injunction

The headquarters of the Garden City Fire Department

The headquarters of the Garden City Fire Department at 351 Stewart Ave. in Garden City. (Aug. 27, 2012) Credit: Steven Pfost

A state Supreme Court justice in Nassau has denied a temporary injunction requested by the union representing Garden City's paid firefighters, who are seeking to stop a village plan to reorganize the department -- a move that cost six paid firefighters their jobs.

The Professional Firefighters Association of Garden City sought a temporary restraining order from Justice Arthur Diamond Thursday. The union asked him to confirm an arbitration award issued on Feb. 25 that said paid firefighters have "exclusive jurisdiction" over the operation of the first trucks dispatched in response to fire calls. The village's plan leaves volunteers, who augment their paid colleagues, to operate the equipment, violating the arbitration award, the union argued.

The union, represented by Garden City attorney Richard Corenthal, also wanted the judge to order the village to rescind new guidelines issued on April 6, reinstate the six paid firefighters laid off the same day, and restore one demoted firefighter to his position of fire lieutenant.

"What petitioner is requesting is . . . an order turning back the clock to before April 6, 2013 when the six professional firefighters were laid off," Diamond wrote in his decision. "It is clear that the arbitration award dealt solely with the issue of the use of 'first line' apparatus."

The new guidelines reduce staffing to two paid firefighters per shift at the Edgemere Road and Clinton Road stations and one lieutenant per shift at headquarters on Stewart Avenue.

"Garden City, even with these layoffs, has more safety and security than any other community on Long Island," village attorney Gerard Fishberg said in court.

The union argued staffing reductions could jeopardize public and firefighter safety. But village officials have said the moves improve efficiency under budgetary constraints and minimize tax increases while saving the village $950,000 a year.

The union had offered for paid firefighters to take zero percent salary increases and contribute up to 15 percent to health insurance costs by May 31, 2018, savings that added up to nearly $1.17 million total, union president Peter Clancy said.

"They are balancing the budget on the backs of six firefighters," said Peter Thorp, a seven-year firefighter who was laid off. "Most of the guys were willing not to take raises to help us out and save jobs."

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