The North Kingstown Fire Department could be facing radical changes in the New Year if a proposed law is passed by the North Kingstown Town Council. The new law, which is set for a public hearing on Jan. 9, would restructure the department and move firefighters from 10- and 14-hour shifts to 24-hour shifts, effective Jan. 1, 2012.
The new structure would have firefighters work a 24-hour shift (10-hour on-duty day shift followed by a 14-hour on-duty night tour) with the following 48 hours off, averaging a 56-hour work week. Though this would be 14 hours more a week than what NK firefighters currently work, there would be no extra compensation for those hours. The structural change would also reduce the number of platoons in the department from four to three. According to Embury, the department is short eight to nine members. Under the proposed structure, there would be no new hires, just "floaters" that would help reduce overtime.
“This ordinance will save a very large sum of money for the town and it will introduce a structural change to the way the fire department is staffed,” said Town Manager Michael Embury.
It’s not the first time discussion of a 24-hour shift has been discussed..
“It’s bizarre and against the law,” said Fire Union President Ray Furtado. “We’re prepared to oppose it for the safety of our firefighters.”
Though the board found that the move would produce “a significant cost savings to the town,” it ruled that North Kingstown’s financial situation “does not mandate such a drastic change.”
But, with multimillion shortfalls expected for both the town and school departments, town officials are predicting steep cuts. According to Embury, $1.2 million will need to be cut from this year’s budget to next year’s. The proposed changes to the department could save the town anywhere from $800,000 to $1.1 million, he adds.
“Absent a contractual agreement that saves them the money we need, we need to have this implemented in order to get structural change and savings,” said Embury.
For Furtado, the introduction of this structural change as a law is ill timed as the town and fire union continue negotiations for this year’s contract. Furtado anticipates legal action if the measure is approved.
“The only beneficiaries in this process are the attorneys involved in the case,” said Furtado. “It’s a waste of money. It’s a shame.”