By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW — Talks over the new collective bargaining agreement between Riverview firefighters and the city came to a boil at Monday’s city council meeting.
Many residents and firefighters were frustrated by the potential elimination of standby pay — allowing the department to have four firefighters in the station 24 hours a day and be paid — for future bonuses and pay increases.
Arguments were made on both sides about the language of the contract and standby pay. Both sides stated there isn’t language to keep or discard standby pay with many stating it’s almost like the policy wasn’t addressed in negotiations.
Michael Coleman, retired Riverview firefighter, said mutual aid is not to supplement absent manpower but to assist existing manpower in necessary cases.
The city “would be playing with danger and (they) are going to kill somebody,” Coleman said. “Its not about if but when.”
Mutual aid is not an agreement to supplement a department that can’t afford a full-time budget and it is an agreement to support a neighboring community when they have an incident that exhausts all of its resources.
“(The Mutual Aid Agreement) does not relieve any of the ‘parties’ from maintaining staff for their own fire fighting, rescue service and police service,” the Downriver Mutual Aid Police and Fire Services Agreement stated. “It is understood and agreed by all ‘parties’ that the purpose of this agreement is to supplement its routine fire and police service, not to take the place of any basic firefighting, rescue service, and police service for which each party bears responsibility to provide to its residents.”
The best way to fight an emergency event is to overwhelm it with manpower and equipment, but it can’t be done without firefighters on standby, Fire Capt. Craig Williamson, said.
“Put standby (pay) back into the budget,” he said. “It is not safe to take it out.”
Mayor Tim Durand said at the meeting his goal is the safety of the citizens through the most efficient means. Currently, the fire department operates at an estimated $80 per taxpayer.
“I can speak for everyone up here,” Durand said. “We would never knowingly put citizens in danger and jeopardize their safety,”
Former Riverview firefighter and current Livonia firefighter Jim Naif said the station is manned with four part-time firefighters which “gives the illusion” that the city was under the watch of full-time firefighters 24 hours a day. He explained this was how the city can operate the department for such a low cost.
“The residents essentially have protection as if it were manned by four full-time employees while the city benefits from paying a straight wage to the firefighters,” Naif said. “Ultimately, the city is paying for four positions (within the firehouse) and not four firefighters.”
The positions get filled with the firefighters who are available to work one of the three different shifts throughout the day, Naif said.
“This means some guys may work a bunch of hours while others may only work one six-hour shift each month,” he said.
“They can continue operating at rock-bottom prices with the implemented standby policy,” Naif said. “If not, they most certainly will abuse mutual aid and eventually wear down the relationships with surrounding cities.”
Any city has the right to terminate the agreement with one city through a 30-day written notice without terminating the agreement with any other involved departments.
Councilman James Trombley said the firefighters knew what they were getting into with this collective bargaining agreement and the presented arguments only represent one side of the story.
Trombley said he could go out on a limb to explain what happened during these negotiations.
The experienced firefighters who live within five miles voted to keep standby while the younger firefighters, who may live farther out, voted for the pay raises because they weren’t going to show up for standby time so they wouldn’t have benefitted from the standby pay, he said.
“The out-of-towners outvoted the hometown heroes,” Trombley said. “Did I question it? Yes, a number of times, but this is what they voted for and we can’t touch it.”
The city has yet to pass the budget with the cuts to standby pay and the adoption of a mutual aid policy. But, the agreement would allow the benefit until July 1.
State and federal law mandates a four-person station only in a fire and not in every emergency situation.
(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at [email protected].)