Seattle firefighters have stepped up their feud with Mayor Greg Nickels by placing a full-page newspaper ad labeling the mayor "the Grinch who stole Public Safety. " The ad depicts...
Seattle firefighters have stepped up their feud with Mayor Greg Nickels by placing a full-page newspaper ad labeling the mayor “the Grinch who stole Public Safety.”
The ad depicts Nickels as the “Grinch” from the famous Dr. Seuss tale, with a grinning Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis standing in as the Grinch’s dog, “Max.” The ad appeared in yesterday’s editions of The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer at a cost of about $14,000.
Paul Atwater, president of the Seattle Firefighters Union, Local 27, said the ad was prompted by the mayor’s opposition to a firefighter-backed ballot initiative that would force the city to pay for four-person crews on all city fire engines. The ad contends Nickels has failed to aid firefighters while backing expensive plans for a KeyArena expansion, a Lake Union trolley and new automated public toilets.
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“We felt we needed to make a statement, in good humor, that we would fight hard for public safety,” Atwater said.
Firefighters plan to run an initiative next year that would amend the city charter to mandate the increased staffing. Nickels and Fire Chief Gregory Dean oppose the measure, saying it could force the city to close some fire stations or cut other services to make up for the $4 million annual cost of added staffing.
Ceis said firefighters are wrong to suggest the mayor has neglected public safety. He said the Fire Department has taken some of the smallest cuts of any city department over the past three years of budget reductions.
Ceis noted the firefighters have another option if they want to staff all fire engines with four-person crews. The city has proposed that the staffing level needed for four-person crews could be attained if each firefighter worked three extra hours per week. The proposal was made in recent contract negotiations with the union. The firefighters’ contract expires Dec. 31.
Atwater rejected the city’s proposal, saying it would amount to 156 hours a year of extra work for no additional pay.
The firefighters union and Nickels have had a testy relationship over the past couple of years, with clashes over the department budget, over details of a recent fire-station levy and over interference from the Mayor’s Office in a safety investigation into conditions at a fire station.
The ad says 33 of the 35 largest U.S. cities have four-person staffing on fire engines. Four-person crews are the recommended safety standard of the National Fire Protection Association. The ad also cites studies which suggest that firefighters on three-person crews are more likely to suffer injuries.
Four-person crews are considered safer because firefighters are supposed to work in pairs and observe a rule requiring two of them to remain outside when the other two enter burning buildings.
But the ad does not mention steps the city has taken toward four-person crews. In 1999, the city reduced the number of three-person crews from 23 to seven. However, budget cuts since then have caused the number of three-person crews to increase to 10.
Nickels has said he favors four-person staffing but opposes the charter amendment because it would limit the city’s options.
While the ad picks exclusively on Nickels, it does not mention that the City Council added $6 million to the mayor’s proposed 2005 budget without devoting any of the additional money to increased firefighter staffing.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org