Deputy Fire Chief and firefighters union leader Steve Aiello calls the new contract between the city of Gloucester and its firefighters “a new beginning.”
And indeed it will be. When the restructuring component of the new deal — signed last Thursday at City Hall – finally kicks in a year from now, it will mean a lot of changes in terms of work schedules and the operation of the city’s stations and equipment.
But the agreement isn’t just a “new beginning” for Gloucester’s firefighters, it’s also a new beginning for the city and its residents. And it’s one for which all sides — first-year Fire Chief Eric Smith, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Aiello and his fellow union negotiations and members — can all take immense credit. That’s because it should stabilize the department’s overtime costs and overall budget, and most importantly, it should finally allow for the opening and operation of all four city fire stations, from Central and West Gloucester to Bay View and Magnolia.
The new deal includes a 2 percent firefighters’ pay raise for the coming fiscal year, a figure parallel to the deal given the city’s two police unions earlier this spring. It also includes a provision for hiring a civilian mechanic to care for the department’s engines and vehicles, a task that firefighters have covered over the years, and a change that frankly should have come long ago.
But the core reform is a provison that will not take effect until July 1 — and it’s one that represents precisely the kind of restructuring the department has needed for some time.
The minimum manning provisions within the firefighters’ contract, while well-rooted in terms of work safety, have been enormous obstacles to staffing the outlying fire stations, since the pact requires that stations be shut down when fewer than 18 firefighters are available for any of four rotating shifts. The Magnolia station – which is almost never open — shuts down at fewer than 18, the department closes Bay View when the number drops below 16, and West Gloucester has to close if the number falls beneath 14.