Wilmington firefighter protest scheduled for today

The Wilmington Firefighters Association is hosting a safety rally and protest today (Thursday) to oppose the city’s reduction of fire department staffing.

According to a press release issued by the Association, firefighters are concerned that the elimination of the Heavy Rescue and Engine Company “has put public safety at risk in the event of a fire or medical emergency.”

Association president Kevin O. Turner says “taking away life-saving resources and balancing the budget on the backs of public safety is a dangerous and risky game.”

The press release also included a memo from Fire Chief Willie J. Patrick, dated November 10, 2010. The memo details the cost-cutting measures.

The memo states: “As part of Mayor James Baker’s Expenditure Reduction Plan, Rescue Company 1 will be placed out of service effective January 3, 2011. This management decision will provide a $998,433 cost saving. The additional personnel will be used to fill existing vacancies and impact overtime throughout the department.”

As a result, according to the Wilmington Firefighters Association, six engine companies will be reduced to five and staffing will be reduced from 34 firefighters per platoon to 30.

“The public deserves to know the schedule for these closures so they will realize fire and medical emergencies will not be covered as in the past,” Turner said.

But according to Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker’s Policy and Communications Director, John Rago, some of the Firefighters Association’s claims are false.

Rago says the Heavy Rescue and Engine Company is not being cut, but it’s being incorporated into a squad unit.

“The mission of the heavy rescue unit will still be performed as it currently is, and the apparatus used by the heavy rescue unit will still be in service,” he said. “In fact, on January 3rd, the WFD will have two heavy rescue units in place instead of one. However they will be renamed special operation units.”

The city will save $998,433, Rago confirmed. But he says the public will not be at risk.

“In fact, public safety and the ability of the WFD to serve the public through the two new special operation units, will be enhanced, not downgraded,” Rago said.

The rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. in front of the City-County Building located at 800 North French St.

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