WILKES-BARRE — Firefighters on patrol are safer than at the station where they’re at risk of a heart attack when the alarm sounds, Mayor Tony George said Tuesday in further explanation of why he’s ordered the department to conduct community fire watches.
The department had been conducting the watches, but for the past 40 days stepped them up at the direction of the mayor by driving apparatus in the neighborhoods, not only to serve as a deterrent, but also to detect fires. George added the well-being of firefighters to the list of benefits.
Most firefighters have heart attacks when they’re awoken from a sound sleep to respond to a call, George said. That’s when “your adrenaline pumps up,” he said without offering any supporting evidence.
But it’s the condition of the apparatus members of Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters are worried about at this point. The daily patrols have been taking a toll on the vehicles that are more than 10 years old and not designed for extended periods of driving throughout the city.
The union disputed the administration’s statements the vehicles are in the shop for routine maintenance. “We wouldn’t need every day maintenance if we weren’t beating them,” said Mike Bilski, president of Local 104.
In a Facebook post Monday, Local 104 said, “three frontline, life saving vehicles are currently out of service for repairs. Engines 1 & 2 are operating out of reserve engines, while Ladder Truck 6 crews are in the Special Ops truck.
“In the event of a fire, your firefighters won’t be bringing a ladder truck to use for rescues. Anyone trapped in a high rise will have to wait and hope.”
Fire Chief Jay Delaney and Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat provided a status report of the vehicles taken out of service:
• Engine 1 had to be taken to a garage in Lackawanna County for work on a rear spring.
• Aerial ladder Truck 6 was in the shop for inspection because the parts came in.
• Engine 2 was at the city garage for replacement of a filter for its diesel engine.
Delaney said equipment break downs and repairs happen. “It’s no different than any other fire department in the United States,” Delaney said.
However, Wilkes-Barre’s practice of patrolling to prevent fires is different.
George said he didn’t know of any other departments that conducted them in a similar manner. The mayor showed no sign of changing his stance on the patrols and said the union was complaining because he’s changed the routine of its members.
“They’re just upset because they have to work,” George said.
The firefighters earn between $75,000 and $80,000 on average, George said. They can no longer sleep on their shift and then leave refreshed to go to a second job, he added.
The mayor’s salary alone is $82,000 this year, according to the 2018 budget. Firefighters have three different levels of wages based on length of service:
• Firefighter A $64,810.
• Firefighter B $58,810.
• Firefighter C $51,847.
Captains earn $67,595. Pay for the assistant chiefs is $77,671 and $81,856. The deputy chief is paid $82,153 and the chief, $95,481.
Due to unfilled vacancies, vacations and workers’ compensation cases, the department exceeded its budgeted overtime of $50,000 for the year. As of the end of July, the most recent monthly financial report provided by the city, overtime for firefighters was $90,189 or 180 percent of the budget.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.