2016-09-14 / Front Page

Biddeford Fire Department entering 15th month without contract

Staffing issues affecting ability to respond to calls, says union president
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer


The Biddeford Fire Department’s Central Fire Station, pictured Tuesday. Labor contract negotiations between the BFD ‘s union and the city continue. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune The Biddeford Fire Department’s Central Fire Station, pictured Tuesday. Labor contract negotiations between the BFD ‘s union and the city continue. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — For nearly 15 months, the Biddeford Fire Department has worked tirelessly without a labor contract.

The union’s contract ended on June 30, 2015, and since then, the 40 members of Local 3107 of the International Association of Firefighters, Biddeford’s chapter, have been in an ongoing series of negotiations with the city.

Union President Tim Sevigny said he worries the quality of fire services could suffer if a contract is not negotiated soon.

“I understand (the council) has some hardships and cost, and they want to try and move on. We’re trying to get them to where they want to be. It’s not easy,” Sevigny said.

“We worry about the citizens of Biddeford, and with recruitment and retention. Those are important things to us ... I want the best paramedics we can possibly have in Biddeford,” he said. “We want to make sure we can get good, top-qualified paramedics. Those are some of the things we don’t want to give up. If we water down the contract, people aren’t coming here.”

The City Council met in executive session on Aug. 2 to discuss the negotiations, but City Manager Jim Bennett said earlier this month that he could not comment on the specifics of those negotiations.

“Both parties agreed that we are going to keep our negotiations private unless one of the parties agreed to open it up to the public,” Bennett said.

Sevigny also could not discuss the specific issues pertaining to the contract negotiations, but said a major department-wide issue is a lack of staff – the last major hiring of firefighters took place in 2004.

The Fire Department has so far responded to 5,500 calls this year, and the number increases every year. Several years ago, Sevigny said, the department mandated that 10 firefighters be staffed when possible, with a minimum of eight on duty at all times.

“We have a real big staffing issue, and that’s a lot of what we’re working on,” Sevigny said. “Luckily, the council recognizes we have a staffing issue. It’s a safety issue, and it should be a concern for the citizens of Biddeford.”

More often than not, Sevigny said, BFD has to visit or call on other municipalities’ fire departments for help. And until more staff is hired, Sevigny said, BFD’s slogan, “Always ready, always there,” may not be the case.

“I can tell you with confidence that if you call 911 right now, there’s no guarantee that someone from Biddeford would show up,” he said. “We’re visiting over 250 calls a year. We can’t even handle ourselves.”

Sevigny said the general membership doesn’t know the extent of the union’s talks with the city, and that could be what is causing frustration among members.

Going months without a contract has caused frustration with some in the Fire Department, especially when they see the city spending funds on capital improvements such as a sidewalk project in downtown Biddeford.

“There’s a lot of not knowing what’s going on, and that’s some of (the frustration), and we try and keep them from spreading stuff that may be true, may not be true,” Sevigny said. “Those are all important things to keep close to you until the process is over. We’re not doing anything to hurt the other side of the table.”

Sevigny praised Bennett for his work in dealing with negotiations between the city and the union, having eliminated a third party negotiator earlier this year.

“Bennett’s done a really good job,” Sevigny said. “He’s in a difficult position, and I’m in a difficult position.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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