To the Editor:
Ken Block and Rob Cote are trying to convince Warwick taxpayers (and the entire state) that they have the answer to save money from the fire department’s staffing and completely eliminate overtime on the department.
While this sounds good and would certainly be a welcome relief for Warwick taxpayers their figures and conclusions are entirely mythical. If you read their proposal you will quickly see that their entire plan is based on making the firefighters work an additional 25 percent more hours with no raise in salary. They do their best to bury this fact with an overwhelming amount of superfluous and irrelevant data. Their plan of moving the Warwick Fire Department to 24 hour shifts under a three-platoon system (as opposed to a 4 platoon system) increases the base weekly hours work from 42 to 56. This would be akin to asking all Warwick residents who work a 40-hour week to begin to work Saturday and Sunday for the same pay.
They also make the claim that around “seventy percent of the fire departments around the country happily work a 24 hour, 3 platoon system.” This is a blatant lie!
The City of Providence attempted to move their fire department from a 4 platoon to a 3 platoon system a couple of years ago and it was an absolute disaster for the taxpayers. The weekly costs went up, overtime went up and because Providence didn’t pay their firefighters any extra base salary (just as Block and Cote propose) the City paid out around $10 million in back pay for the firefighters when the City finally gave up and moved back to the more efficient four-platoon system.
Block and Cote claim that swapping shifts with another firefighter (a common practice) results in an overtime shift paid at 1½ times base hourly wage. Once again an outright lie!
Mr. Cote amassed hundreds of pages of documents from the Warwick Fire Department in order to document that there were many 24- and 48-hour shifts worked by Warwick firefighters in order to debunk the notion that working 24-hour shifts would be unsafe for firefighters. He needn’t have wasted his time. No one in the fire service claims that 24-hour shifts as part of a four-platoon system is unsafe. Firefighters would still work 42 hours per week. It’s the 24-hour shifts as part of a 3 platoon system that is unsafe. This raise a base workweek to 56 hours even before any overtime is required.
Neither Mr. Block nor Mr. Cote have any experience or understanding of the fire service. I am a retired Fire Captain from Providence with 35 years of experience. I know a lot more about this subject than they. I wouldn’t gain of loose personally with this proposed change – other than the fact that I’d be less confident in my fire protection having to rely on overworked firefighters. I have lived in Warwick for the past 18 years. If this proposal really had merit and would save me on my tax bill, I’d be silent – but it doesn’t!