Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A different way to address the DC fire department staffing problem

The DC Fire Department has a staffing policy where firefighters work one 24-hour shift every four days. This enables the personnel to live very far away and/or to have second, full-time jobs.

The Chief of the department wants to change the staffing program to a more regular manner ("D.C. fire chief proposes big staffing cuts, 12-hour shifts," Examiner, 2011), which he says would allow for better scheduling and use of resources.  The firefighters union is opposed, which of course is why they did a "no confidence" vote on the Chief.

Last week, as part of the justification for the change in personnel practices -- the firefighters union and the police officers union are big contributors to local political campaigns, making it difficult for elected officials to push forward the change -- Mayor Gray said that the fact that so many firefighters live far away reduces the ability of the city to respond to catastrophes, such as what happened in Boston.  See "Mayor Vincent Gray warns D.C. can't handle Boston-like attack."

According to the Examiner:

The administration wants to change the system to 12-hour rotations, which would likely force workers to reside closer to the District. Records show 28 percent of the District's uniformed FEMS employees live 30 miles or more from D.C.

Now the city says we're safe, but concerned.  See "Despite worries, Mayor Vincent Gray administration says D.C. ready for attack" from the Examiner.

2.  One way to be "incremental" in the change in practice would be to move to a middle position.  If the issue is just about safety, don't change the personnel scheduling practice but require all the firefighters to live in the city.

3.  Alternatively, but it would be a scheduling nightmare, they could allow firefighters who live in the city to maintain the one day out of every four working schedule, but require non-resident firefighters to work on the new schedule.

That would undercut the ability of the union to oppose the change, and put them on the defensive in terms of their place of residence.

4. On the other hand, there are downsides to having more city employees living in the city, because they become a larger voting bloc that can end up supporting politicians that are great for the municipal workers (e.g., under Marion Barry, DC had far more municipal employees, even taking into account the city's "unitary government", than any other city in the US) but not so great for the city.

Also see:

-- "Fire and emergency services (in DC)," March 2013
-- "Rationalizing Fire and Emergency Services," 2011
-- "Emergency Response," 2009
-- "Council ponders reserved parking for firefighters," 2007

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At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Safety? Not hardly. We've had exactly one callback in 20 years, on 9/11/2001. People living in the city failed to show up, people living far away came in. In any case, it was pointless, because we didn't have enough fire trucks or ambulances for the extra personnel to work with. They sat in fire stations for 12 or more hours. During Katrina, the local firefighters took care of their families, while the commuters came in and worked. It's absolutely not about safety.

After 9/11, the mayors, fire chiefs, and the federal government worked to ensure that we had an adequate reserve fleet. The current mayor and fire chief have squandered that.

Additional personnel for a call-back? The current mayor and fire chief have left positions vacant, requiring mandatory overtime for the understaffed department on an almost daily basis. Units are downstaffed, or placed out of service daily due to staffing shortages, all directly attributable to the fire chief and mayor's failure to hire personnel to fill vacancies.

None of this is about safety, or even having the existing personnel live in the city. This is about creating a hostile enough work environment that the existing (too old, too white) personnel to leave so that new Cadets (only from certain zipcodes) can be hired at lower cost and with the proper political loyalties.

This is it. Racial Patronage. The last gasps of chocolate city. Fill the ranks with enough diversity hires and you can have a safe voting bloc for 25 years, people who will never question your ethics, your policies, so long as you toss them a raise every now and then.


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