Providence Fire Department in Chaos
Monday, November 23, 2015
Also, the Fire Department is now being run by a police officer, as Elorza just demoted Acting Fire Chief Scott Mello, who had served in the role since July after previous Chief Clarence Cunha retired, and replaced him with Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.
“I think any failures lie at the feet of Mayor Elorza. It's clear that the shift schedule change has caused consequences to the PFD of which he was unaware and for which he was unprepared,” said Paul Doughty with the Local 799. “The impact of those shift changes are going about as well as his legal strategy - an abysmal failure."
City Council President Luis Aponte said that he heard of the moves on Friday, which also included Elorza naming former Chief George Farrell - who had previously sought a disability pension from the city - as a managing consultant for the department.
On Sunday, Aponte said he wanted an opinion from the city solicitor as to the legality of the moves.
“I heard from [Chief of Staff] Tony Simon on Friday that they were bringing in George Farrell to help with the department. I have yet to see an opinion from the solicitor. There are lots of questions to be asked," said Aponte. "The role of the Commissioner is to oversee public safety, which oversees police and fire. I'll wait to reserve judgement to see if the Commissioner can appoint himself fire chief."
Past — and Present — Issues
The firefighters union is currently battling the city over Elorza’s platoon shift changes, which the Mayor put forth in May to change the city’s four platoons to three with a condensed shift schedule. At the time, Elorza said the immediate implementation could save as much as $5 million annually beginning in FY2017.
The decision resulted in fifty firefighters retiring, costing the city millions — and a spike in firefighters calling out sick and injured.
“The department and the city face several serious safety issues including most significantly, the mass exodus of firefighters, the majority of which were our most senior and experienced employees,” said Doughty. “More retirements will occur in January, and still Elorza has taken no action to begin the hiring process for new firefighters, despite a new fire academy included in this year's budget. The resulting increase in work hours has resulted in an increase in the number of firefighters injured.”
“I have no firsthand knowledge of how Chief Mello was running the department, but I know there's a certain level of turmoil, it's a difficult time,” said Aponte. “I’m not sure another short-term fire chief will make it any better. The sooner the city makes permanent leadership decisions to assess the needs of the city from a public safety standpoint, the better off for both the city and department. It's been far too long."
“And the the terms of [former] Chief Farrell’s appointment aren’t known at this point,” continue Aponte. “I’ve yet to hear what is role is. When the announcement was made, there were unanswered questions as to even what his salary will be.”
Support from Former State Police Superintendent
Former Superintendent of the State Police Brendan Doherty said that he believed that Pare, who has been at the top public safety post in the city since January 2011, would be up for the task as Interim Fire Chief.
“The Firemen and women have a tough job but balancing a budget is tough as well. I was the first ever Public Safety Commissioner for the state of a Rhode Island I understand the balance of providing adequate funding to fulfill your immediate needs yet cutting in other areas to make the numbers work," said Doherty.
“Commissioner Pare was my partner as young detectives and then we rose through the ranks together. He's a tough guy but a compassionate guy. He'll do what he needs to get the job done,” continued Doherty. “But like me he'll hold people accountable that aren't pulling their weight. He's a leader and leaders lead even in in face of adversity. He knows that fire services are a very difficult and dangerous responsibility and I'm sure he'll try to bring everyone to the table to work toward solutions."
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