Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean yesterday came out swinging against a union-backed initiative that would require the city to fund four-person crews on all its fire engines. The Seattle Firefighters Union...

Share story

Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean yesterday came out swinging against a union-backed initiative that would require the city to fund four-person crews on all its fire engines.

The Seattle Firefighters Union, Local 27, is asking its members to vote this week on whether to go ahead with a proposed city-charter amendment next year dubbed “Ready 4 Rescue.” The union is promoting it as a way to increase firefighter and public safety, citing national standards, which recommend four-person crews.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

But Dean said the union initiative could actually jeopardize public safety.

Because the union proposal would not carry any additional funding, Dean warned the city would have to consider closing three fire stations and force more firefighters to respond to medical calls to come up with the estimated $4 million it would cost to comply with the initiative.

“The Ready 4 Rescue plan is not the right plan for firefighter safety and also for the safety of the public,” Dean said.

Dean said he was making his concerns public now so that firefighters would think twice before moving forward with their ballot measure.

Of Seattle’s 44 fire companies, all but 10 already operate with four-person crews. The union has been pushing for years to get all companies staffed at that level, citing recommendations by the National Fire Protection Association.

Firefighters union President Paul Atwater said he was surprised to learn that Dean had contacted the media this week to make his objections known.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with Chief Dean. I’m shocked he would be doing this so underhandedly,” said Atwater.

Atwater said he suspected Dean was acting at the behest of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who also opposes the union initiative. But Dean said it was his own idea to make his objections known.

This is the first major public clash with the union’s rank and file for Dean, a 34-year veteran of the department before being named chief in April. He replaced Gary Morris, who quit in January after 2½ years in the job.

Atwater has asked the union’s 970 members to vote by tomorrow on whether to go ahead with the charter amendment and commit up to $150,000 in union money to campaign for it. If the members give the go-ahead, the union would have to gather 35,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis questioned the legality of the union proposal and said passing initiatives was not a smart way to allocate city money.

“Are we going to lock up the entire city budget by charter amendment?” he asked.

Ceis and Dean both noted that the city has an alternate plan to achieve four-person crews — by making firefighters work more hours.

The firefighters union’s contract expires at the end of the year, and the city has proposed requiring firefighters to work an additional three hours per week. If that were to happen, Dean said, all fire companies would have four-person crews.

Under the current contract, firefighters work 45 hours per week. The city plan would have them working 48 hours. (Firefighters typically work two full-day shifts in a week, totaling 45 hours, including time spent sleeping at night when not on calls.) Dean said he and the mayor both support the union’s goal, just not its tactic of appealing directly to voters with an initiative.

“I believe we should work in a partnership here,” Dean said.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com