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Schenectady firefighters OK new contract, avoid layoffs

Schenectady firefighters OK new contract, avoid layoffs

Fourteen firefighters had their pink slips rescinded Wednesday after their union approved a new cont

Fourteen firefighters had their pink slips rescinded Wednesday after their union approved a new contract.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton announced that the multi-year contract offered enough concessions to make the 14 jobs affordable.

“There will be no layoffs,” Stratton said. “I’m greatly encouraged. We’ve done it through their concessions and our partnership.”

Although city officials did not release any figures, they had previously said the union would have to give back $600,000 in raises and concessions to avoid layoffs.

Stratton declined to discuss the contract details until it is approved by the City Council, which was briefed on the contract Monday.

The council will vote on it next Monday at its regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

Firefighters said they were asked to approve at least two years without raises, among other concessions.

Union President David Orr declined to discuss the contract, but said firefighters knew they had to make significant changes to the contract if they wanted to avoid layoffs in a tough fiscal year.

“They guys were realistic,” he said. “They also realize what it would mean for our daily staffing [to lose 14 firefighters]. We depend on each other for our safety and we didn’t want to have to deal with that. By preserving the jobs, we preserve our safety.”

Originally, the budget called for 22 layoffs, including three firefighters who just finished training. That was whittled to 14 after Chief Robert Farstad made an impassioned, hourlong presentation to the City Council showing how badly response time would be slowed if he had to lose so many firefighters.

With 22 layoffs, he said a fire station would have to be closed — leaving residents in large swaths of the city without help for more than eight minutes after they called 911.

The time lag, far above the four-minute standard for professional fire departments, would lead to brain death for heart attack victims and allow small fires to spread through an entire house, Farstad said.

But even with just 14 layoffs, Farstad said he might still have to close a firehouse.

He also would have had to take two fire trucks off the road, he said.

With fewer trucks, Farstad said, the stations are more likely to run out of vehicles and call for another city station to help. That would drive up response times to the eight- to 12-minute range on those occasions.

He said cutting the layoffs down to 14 was not enough.

“It really didn’t solve the problem,” Farstad said.

He did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday after the layoffs were rescinded.

The mayor and his contract negotiator, John Paolino, declined to explain how the new contract would save all the jobs at once without creating a hole in the budget. The firefighters agreed to spread the savings across a multi-year contract, but the city needs the entire $600,000 next year.

Paolino said he would explain the concessions package after it is approved by the City Council on Monday.

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