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Poll: Should Firefighters Work 24-Hour Shifts?

A proposed change to town law would restructure the fire department, resulting in 24-hour-long shifts for firefighters.

, the Town of North Kingstown is seeking measures to cut costs. One such cost-cutting measure may be a radical restructuring of the North Kingstown Fire Department which would result in

According to Town Manager Michael Embury, the restructuring could lead to a savings in the neighborhood of $800,000 and $1.1 million. The idea for 24-hour-long shifts was brought up this past year during arbitration between the town and North Kingstown's fire union, Local 1651.

The new structure would move firefighters from working 10- and 14-hour shifts to 24-hour shifts (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.

Do you think 24-hour-long shifts for firefighters is unreasonable? Take our poll below and sound off in the comments.

The proposed law is set for a public hearing before the North Kingstown Town Council on Jan. 9.

NKtaxPAyerAlso January 04, 2012 at 01:39 PM
By the sounds of what the town is trying to do to the firefighters, I guess its a good thing they do belong to a union. I have not seen the "union thug" here at all. Mr. Clutch seems like a well-educated, intelligent person that has answered all of our questions as of yet. It is kind of refreshing to have a union official that is in touch with the tax payers he/she serves. I don't know about anyone else, but I have not seen any other union officials do this? Maybe it's because the firefighter don't have anything to hide. They have placed all the numbers and facts for us. Witch is more that I can say for the town. Well, this will be my last post on this subject. My mind has been made up. It's time to concentrate on the school dept now, and all the money the town / school committee is wasting on fighting each other. Thank You Clutch and good luck to you and your firefighters on the 9th. I will be at the meeting to support you.
NKRI Transparency January 04, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I would like to again ask: I ask an opinion that if the town was a home, what a family would or should do when expenses exceed revenue. Tell their employer that he must give them more money (taxes) – see below? Borrow? Find creative alternatives? Cut back? Other? I ask an opinion that if the town was a business, what it would or should do when expenses exceed revenue . Raise prices (taxes) – see above? Borrow? Find creative alternatives? Cut back? Other? I agree that all should not fall on to the back(s) of anyone in particular. Seems that many say what they don't want or find proposals unacceptable, none are offering suggestions for resolution. Seeems that many attitudes were exposed during the hearings etc for pension reform.
Joe Smith January 04, 2012 at 08:25 PM
You can look at the town budget if you want to get information. Firefighter section is pp 66-7 and personnel costs are detailed on 169. (NKpride had the link in early comment) http://www.northkingstown.org/sites/northkingstown.org/files/pdf-attachments/Full%20Approved%20Budget.pdf If you look at those pages, you will note: (1) Personnel costs are the overwhelming driver of the FF budget. (2) FF healthcare costs are 17% of the total personnel costs while the police are 13.8%. If the same proportion existed for the FF, there would be a savings of almost $250K. I have no idea if this is a result of contract differences (in how much employees contribute) or whether FF get simply more health care benefits (and contribute the same percentage as others). (3) FF base salaries seem fairly reasonable (subjective opinion of course). Overtime is another thing (close to $1M), but then there are mandates, policy decisions, and other factors involved. Uniform allowances (86K) and "holiday" pay (300K+) are shown as well. (4) Over 40% of the incidents are for medical purposes (thankfully only 2% are "fires"). Of course, this leads to the question of whether finding other ways to provide medical response should be explored. According RIPEC, RI ranks # 1 (by far) in public fire safety spending nationally (49th in roads). I do not support trying to save money by moving to a suspect manning system; however, as in life, you have to make risk/benefit tradeoffs.
NKRI Transparency January 04, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Appreciate facts as opposed to distortions, thanks!!!!
john boscardin January 05, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Your analogy is confusing at best. But hey what do I know, I am just a handyman, right? If you think by making fun of my business bothers me, well you don't know me very well at all. Funny how people with screen names seem to have the biggest "blogging muscles" I didnt disagree with the firefighters position. I questioned marks statement about changing job descriptions(adding responsibilities with no increase in pay) being unique to the firefighters when companies do it more often than some people realize. And until recently, people that work for unions have not been exposed to this kind of thing.
john boscardin January 05, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Defeatist by nature? Race to the bottom? Not really sure where you get that from. Maybe because you think I disagree with you. I am not sure what to think about this plan. I am all for saving money, but the unintended consequences may be unpleasant. You are correct about changing job descriptions in the private sector can be because advancement in ones career (this usually happens because of cmmendable performance), but that is not the thrust of this article or your position. I disagree with your assertion that raises "routinely" occur for reasons other than performance. It does happen but not "routinely". Conversely, in the public sector raises are routinely given regardless of performance and just becasue of another year of service. You mention that a person can work in a "goal-oriented fashon" (since when are goals a bad thing?) and never be rewarded for their efforts. On the other side of the coin, marginal people(not all) that work in a protected environment get rewarded for their mediocrity. Finally, I did not generalize that all union members are not aware of how the private sector functions, I was referring to one persons post.
Clutch127 January 05, 2012 at 02:27 PM
@Joe Smith and NKRI Transparency: These are all great observations on the surface, however glaring fundamental "distortions" are prevalent here. For instance, the "facts" presented by the budget are not always as "factual" as some would claim. In fact, in the name of transparency, we maintain a link directly to the NK budget on our site, www.nkffa.org. That may even be where you found your data; if so, thanks for visiting our site. As a quick example, the budget states that the FD has 76 personnel. We have not "in fact" had that amount of firefighters for some time. We currently have only 61 people, which is augmented by three staff. No distortion. Reality. In the name of brevity, this is indicative of many erroneous conclusions that are regularly drawn by assuming the budget is an actual representation of expenditures. Also, the RIPEC observations related to fire per capita spending are based a subjective rating system that leaves it to the individual entity to determine which categories expenses are placed in for data purposes. Rhode Island combines fire and EMS expenses into one category, while most other states do not. I have enclosed a link to an article that exposes this often misleading practice for what it is. http://whatcheer.net/ripr/ripr37.pdf We agree that facts and not distortions are the order of the day. However, care must be taken to not dismiss facts that don't support a position as a "distortion". Thanks again for the dialogue.
Joe Smith January 06, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Thanks Clutch - 2 responses. Here is the excerpts from the town published 2011-12 document - which I assume is an official document, vetted for accuracy. I can understand that "budgeted" can reflect one thing, but I would think "actual" means, well, physical bodies on the payroll. Doesn't the Fire Chief submit these figures? Are you saying 77 in FY 10 is incorrect, or has there been a decline since the end of FY10? Also, if it is wrong, would you mind telling us which positions are incorrectly inflated? Thanks. POSITION TITLE (Full Time) ACTUAL 09/10BUDGET 10/11 PROJECTED 11/12 Fire Chief 1 1 1 Deputy Fire Chief 4 4 4 Fire Captain 5 5 5 Rescue Captain 4 4 4 Fire Lieutenant 15 15 15 Rescue Lieutenant 4 4 4 Private/EMTC 40 39 39 Fire Inspector 1 1 1 Training Officer 0 0 0 Fire Mechanic 1 1 1 Assistant Mechanic 1 1 1 Secretary 1 1 1 Total 77 76 76 00108030-FIRE DEPARTMENT 81.00 7700. (FY 09 and FY 10 actuals)
Clutch127 January 06, 2012 at 07:17 PM
@Joe Smith: Thanks for taking the time to research the issue to the extent that you have. The numbers in the budget are mostly inaccurate due to the many vacancies that have been created by retirements. While the Town has always correctly promoted individuals as soon as the vacancies occur, the Town has also made the decision to fill those subsequent vacancies with overtime as opposed to hiring new firefighters. The result has been higher than average overtime levels, routinely resulting in firefighters being “ordered” to fill vacancies to maintain the response level for the Town.
Clutch127 January 06, 2012 at 07:19 PM
In terms of the budget, I cannot speak on behalf of the Fire Chief or any Town official on the calculations, and to be clear I am not IN ANY WAY suggesting that the numbers were intentionally “inflated”. All I am saying is that due to fluctuations over time, they are not entirely accurate, as any budget tends to vary based on anticipated expenditures. What I can say is that beginning FY 2011-12 for instance, we only had 65 members in the NKFFA (the Fire Chief and Secretary are not members of our union). Many of these retirements occurred prior to the last arbitration over the 56-hour work week. Avoiding this exodus was one of the primary reasons we presented a massive concession offer to the Town last year. The opportunity was lost, and some great firefighters (some of which you may know) were forced to leave. The Town has not hired since. In fact, we just had an additional retirement as of December 30, 2011, leaving our current number of Firefighter/EMTC’s at thirty (30), for a total of sixty-one (61) line, and three (3) staff positions (one Fire Marshall and two fire mechanics), for a total of 64 union personnel. Great questions as always; hope the answer is sufficient. Thanks for the interest….
Clutch127 January 06, 2012 at 07:32 PM
@nkpride0303: All good questions; thanks so much for taking an interest. A few short answers: We are currently at a total of 61 line firefighters and 3 staff positions, for a total membership of 64. We currently operate a minimum manning of 17 firefighters per shift. The Town increased its operational response in conjunction with the opening of the sorely needed Station 5 in Slocum, which you may recall was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. The Town has not hired any new personell, and has elected to fill the existing voids with overtime. We do not participate at all in hiring, and as such I cannot comment at all on the process. It is true that all current trucks (with the exception of Engine 6 at School Street) only have two firefighters. Thanks to minimum manning requirements (which some foolishly seek to eradicate from the law), we have three firefighters on that Engine alone. Hope the answers help; keep the great questions coming and thanks for the interest....
Joe Smith January 06, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Clutch, Interesting, thanks. You are correct that some have faulted the RIPEC study in that different states, depending on how they organize fire/emergency safety, might have public spending in that area in different "buckets." Clearly, states that have dual firefighters/EMT or have the two functions under the fire department organization would have higher spending than those that keep operate under a different model, perhaps outsourcing EMS to private companies (which would show up under health services or other) or more reliance on volunteer rescue/emergency squads. The source you provided attempted to correct for that and concluded that "When you add the health and firefighters category, Rhode Island falls down around eighth." Assuming there are no "extra" spending in health care beyond EMS (which would be a similar distortion), then the point remains RI is still in the top 20%. Again, individual towns have to choose what they value with what they can afford and the resultant amount of risk or lower quantity/quality of municipal services.. I didn't see in on the NKFFA website, so would you outline what concessions the union offered?
Joe Smith January 06, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Also, I agree moving to the 56 hour without extra compensation, or alternatively looking for employees to contribute more or take reduce other benefits are net cuts in total compensation (either in the form of less actual money or less time). I was curious though, given the $1M in overtime, whether there are other practices that could move overtime into more regular employee compensation -- for example, moving to a 3-3-3 shift (3 x 12 day, 3 x 12 night, 3 off) also results in a 56 hour (I think) work week that t doesn't require the 24 hour requirement, seems to give (on paper) some more family stability, and would control (in theory) overtime. If the last part was true, you could move money currently in overtime to compensate for the extra hours. Also, while I understand the motivation for being "hourly" employees, wouldn't being on salary with some negotiated incentives for both management and labor to avoid abusing overtime be better from the public standpoint? For example, some amount of overtime is built into the salary, if that is exceeded, the employee works some agreed amount over but amounts over that is paid at 2-3x hourly rate. While I do not favor a 24 hour shift, your peers in Washington DC are fighting to stay on 24 hours shifts, although I believe they get 3, not 2 days off after the shift.
NKRI Transparency January 07, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Well said Joe Smith...............
Clutch127 January 07, 2012 at 08:09 PM
@Joe Smith: Some responses to your inquiries: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head that individual towns need to decide for themselves what works best for them. North Kingstown is a classic example, in that just recently the voters overwhelmingly approved a public safety bond that provided enhancements to fire and police infrastructure, and resulted in the invaluable construction and operation of the new Fire Station #5 in Slocum. And as far as RIPEC goes, I think it is fair to say that once you find fundamental flaws in the design of any particular study (or flaws that generate a misperception of fact), logic dictates that the results must considered to have a limited level of validity. In my humble opinion, the data from such questionable studies should be considered unreliable at best.
Clutch127 January 07, 2012 at 08:14 PM
The concessions the Union offered do not and will not appear on the website. The Council’s recent decision to postpone the ordinance hearing was due to ongoing negotiations, and as such I cannot to offer specific details at this time. What I can say is that the concessions for the previous contract (the one that went to arbitration) involved all aspects of benefit reduction, including but not limited to significant voluntary reductions in holiday pay and clothing allowance, increases in healthcare copayment, as well as offering to receive no guaranteed pay increases for three years. The Town said no because of their desire for “structural change”, and in the end spent hundreds of thousands of dollar to lose all but two issues, one of which we offered (0% pay increase). The other was a pension adjustment, which wouldn’t have saved a dime for 25 years, and was far superseded by the legislature as I’m sure you know.
Clutch127 January 07, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Since overtime seems to be an area of your focus, you should know that the 56 hour work week generates built in “overtime” by its very nature, since FLSA states additional compensation is required by law for any more than 212 hours of work in a 28 day cycle. The shift that you’ve shown is actually one of the more harmful for firefighters because of the inconsistent shifts and its effect on circadian rhythms. Disrupted circadian rhythms can cause numerous health issues, and there is plenty of research available on the topic. I am confused as to your question regarding salary and hourly compensation, since it is rooted in reducing overtime abuse. No assertion of abused overtime has been made to my knowledge, simply that more overtime is necessary since the Town hasn’t hired any new employees. Lastly, you are correct that the Washington DC firefighters are fighting to stay on their current 24 hour shifts. They work 24 hour shifts as part of a 42 hour work week. The schedule they are fighting (and the one you’ve presented) results in a 56 hour week, exactly what we’re opposed to working. You should also know that their Chief is advocating a change to shorter shifts. Why? Because their Chief is asserting that 24 hour shifts are UNSAFE. Who knew? Thank you for bringing up Washington, Joe; it helps prove my point and shows that this type of assault on our shift is not just happening here in NK. Thanks again for the posts; enjoy the rest of your weekend.
NKRI Transparency January 07, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Do DC FF's have an opinion as to working 24 hr shifts? Must admit that I find your reference of "assault" interesting.
Joe Smith January 09, 2012 at 03:10 PM
NKRI - DC FF Union is opposed to the shift change and want to stay on the 24 hour shifts. Interesting in that there are DC firefighters who live in some cases hundreds of miles outside the city; the schedule effectively means they are only working 8 days a month. Excerpt from story: "The fire chief said only 25 percent of firefighters live in the District. More than 40 percent live 30 to 100 miles outside the city - and some as far as South Carolina or New Jersey - because the current system allows them to report for a total of eight days per month." Clutch - I'm a little confused; 24 hour shifts are unsafe according to DC Chief and I'm inferring from your emphasis on "unsafe" that you concur. However, you also say the 3-3-3 shift is harmful as well. The IAFF has filed at least in the case of a Massachusetts' town a few years ago a brief in support of moving to a 24 hour schedule (24 followed by 2 off, then 24 followed by 4 off) so the national association can't be opposed in total to 24 hour shifts. Obviously, there are only a fixed amount of hours so there is a reciprocity between work period length and time off length - it somewhat seems safety of a 24 hour shift masks other issues about staffing levels and compression/expansion of shifts. It would be nice if emergencies followed a predictable pattern; I guess the issue is at what level of frequency/severity of emergencies do you man/operate.
NKRI Transparency January 09, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Attempting to be impartial I am looking for any and all info...............Appreciate the response Joe. As they say, peel the onion to get to the core of the issue.
Clutch127 January 09, 2012 at 05:09 PM
@Joe Smith: Your confusion is understandable in that you are isolating only one aspect of this change while ignoring many others. The overly-simplistic idea 24 hour shifts being "safe" or "unsafe" actually depends on a number of other factors. For instance, the major reason we are opposed to the Town proposal is because it COMBINES 24 hour shifts with a 56 hour week. This results in a long-term, longitudinal, potentially harmful work environment that carries significant increased risk and lifestyle imbalance. The fact that this would be devoid of compensation for the hours worked would then surely cause increased employee finacial hardship and increased stress, as well as a host of other problems. This is the real danger of these exchanges being rooted in semantics, which could ultimately lead to a work schedule change that could have severe consequences to the safety of firefighters and the public at large. There are a number of studies that show that working extended 24 hour shifts can have harmful effects, but the other factors that exacerbate the problems generally go unmentioned or unnoticed during the debates over the issue. Thank you for bringing these additional factors to light; you have really helped improve the quality of the debate and allowed me to illustrate our position in great detail. Based on the overwhelming support and positive feedback I have received, it has clearly been beneficial, hopefully for all. Thanks again....
NKRI Transparency January 10, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Seems that many look at things from the outside. Bottom line is how all can be satisfied without adversely affecting resident taxes. I so wish that many could experience industry for an improved understanding. Seems that when I ask poignant question I do not receive answers. So many questions, so few answers. In the end, true or not many good people are viewed as part of an organization that is for themselves forgetting who their customer is.
NK WATCH January 12, 2012 at 03:56 AM
NOTE TO NK FIREFIGHTERS: this was in today's projo from NKGOP member, WILL KING........sadly you may have to save this dirtbag from a burning building someday..... http://news.providencejournal.com/letters-to-the-editor/2012/01/will-king-highly-trained-firemen.html
Mike January 13, 2012 at 12:05 AM
People might want to research the subject before commenting. I see lots of opinion and fact-free conversation with the occasional well thought out comment. Google 24 hr shifts and firefighters. Many communities have gone to this system successfully-and firefighters actually comment positively. Of course, each situation is different. But to dismiss the proposal out of hand is ignorant. The status quo is unsustainable. The school budget, the vast majority tied up in generous salaries and benefits, keeps growing and squeezing the town budget. The town needs to find savings, and every town employee should do their best to assist. No one has a guaranteed position...if the pay, hours and benefits a town can afford is less than one wants, one can find another position.
Clutch127 January 13, 2012 at 01:42 AM
@Mike: Most of the communities that you speak of have gone to 24 hour shifts as part of a 42-hour work week. If that were the intent of the Council, we probably would have settled the issue by now. Secondly, there is a difference between "doing your best to assist" and being forced to cram the equivalent of nearly FOUR additional months of work and time away from home into a given year, without compensation to boot. This is the intent of the Council ordinance. And the proposal was not dismissed out of hand. We offered numerous alternatives that went unheeded. I would posit that the Town shouldn't engage in a tunnel-vision driven, Machiavellian approach to finding solutions, but rather work with their employees to find solutions instead of continuous conflict. After all, the Town expert in the arbitration founded a company that specializes in precisely that. In closing, the idea of moving to a 56-hour work week was addressed at length in the last arbitration. The Town enlisted the services of arguably the most prominent labor attorney in the state (along with additional lawyers and staff), paid for multiple expert witnesses, participated in thirteen days of testimony, and still the arbitration panel didn't support the Town case. The massive data and testimony blew Google out of the water to say the least, and when ALL the facts were presented, the proposal still was not awarded. Isn't it just possible that this proposal/ordinance simply isn't the way to go?
Joe Smith January 13, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Clutch, According to the Federal Government Dept of Labor, "Work hours of fire fighters are longer and more varied than the hours of most other workers. Many fire fighters work about 50 hours a week, and sometimes they may work longer. In some agencies, fire fighters are on duty for 24 hours, then off for 48 hours, and receive an extra day off at intervals. In others, they work a day shift of 10 hours for 3 or 4 days, work a night shift of 14 hours for 3 or 4 nights, have 3 or 4 days off, and then repeat the cycle. In addition, fire fighters often work extra hours at fires and other emergencies and are regularly assigned to work on holidays. Fire lieutenants and fire captains frequently work the same hours as the fire fighters they supervise. This is from firerecruit and echoed by aspiringfirefighter.com, but I don't know who runs those sites. Most municipal firefighters work a 56 hour work week, rotating 24 or 48 hour shifts. There are some work schedules that are less, such as 42 hours per week and some departments work 8 to 12-hour shifts rather than 24-hour shifts. There are many "combination" departments in the East Coast that employ full-time personnel during the day and rely on their volunteers in the evenings. Work schedules for municipal departments can vary greatly, but the most common schedule in the country is a 56-hour work week, working 10 to 24 shifts per month in various cycles. The most common cycle is 24 hours on 48 hours off.
Clutch127 January 13, 2012 at 04:38 AM
@Joe Smith: Hi again. Of all of your research on firefighting work shifts, how many employ a system where full-time firefighters aren't compensated for all of the hours they work? Are you aware that many that work this work shift also receive accelerated time accrual for pension purposes due to the massive amount of extra hours worked? Are you aware that the Town officially disbanded the last of its volunteer operations here in NK because it was not cost-effective to maintain and caused exceedingly high risk of liability? I do appreciate your continued effort to discuss work schedules, but I’m curious as to your response to the action of the Town Council. You have not at all addressed their intent to ignore RI law and enact an ordinance that clearly violates state statute. I have attached two of the laws here: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/statutes/Title28/28-9.1/28-9.1-4.HTM http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/statutes/title28/28-7/28-7-14.HTM Since the Town already pursued this through arbitration and lost, do you feel their next step should be provoking a long, expensive legal battle, when the firefighters have made multiple concession offers over the past two years? As I asked earlier, wouldn't you have to at least admit the possibility that this shift has serious flaws, and more importantly that this action by the TC will cause uneccessary and exceedingly expensive litigation?
Joe Smith January 13, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Clutch, My point was merely to indicate that 24 hour shifts/56 hour week seems more of the norm..or perhaps 24 hour shifts with "Kelly" days added to make it effectively something between 42 and 56 hours. The study done in Canada and even cited by the IAFF local in DC concluded the 24 hour was optimal. Now, I will also admit that changing to the proposed shift schedule without reworking the compensation aspect and other related impacts is a poor option. There should (and hopefully have been) be thoughtful risk analysis done. For example, suppose emergencies occurred on a predictable basis; then you could build a schedule that incorporated response, training, maintenance, sleep, and administrative duties. However, I suspect (and you would have better insight) that only looking at the aggregate statistics don't tell the other factors such as intensity, duration (which may be correlated), and frequency. So, the shift schedule, compensation aside, would seem highly contextual based on those factors plus the level of risk (since we can't afford to cover every set of worst case scenarios) the community is willing to accept. I also agree that throwing good money after bad -- that is pursuing an action that seems highly probable to be denied makes little sense. Although I understand during negotiations the union can't detail their offers, it does seem from an outsider's perspective that pursuing other cost-saving options first would be better.
Clutch127 January 22, 2012 at 10:11 PM
FYI: The NK Town Council agenda for tommorow night DOES NOT list the public hearing on the 56-hour work week ordinance for firefighter shift schedules. I wanted to pass this on for all of you that were planning on attending expecting a public hearing, and on behalf of your NK firefighters I thank you for your overwhelming and continued support.
B January 31, 2012 at 03:34 PM
It seems as though Firefighters and Police Officers continuously do what's needed in order to provide safety for the respective towns they work. Whether it be at traffic accidents, domestics, fires, or ever increasing calls for the sick that expose them to injury, disease, and basically everything that any "normal" person would run away from. And yet, when the budget needs balancing, it's always on the back of these people. Has anyone looked at the overall budget in NK? What percentage of the budget do the fire and police ACTUALLY take up? I think what everyone forgets is that these Police and Fire Men/woman ARE citizens as well. We are not invisible to the recessions/depressions. THEY ARE the middle and lower class people you conservatives are talking about. The services that they provide for the small portion of the budget they actually receive is a deal. And not you want MORE? NK taxpayers, you cannot get blood from a stone. When money needs to be saved, it should be equally on the backs of ALL workers, not continuously on Police/Fire. How soon people forget the sacrifices Police/Fire people make daily in this country. As I would expect, regardless the outcome of this ordinance, the finest and bravest in NK will continue to provide an outstanding service to its taxpayers. Thats the thanks they get for the sacrifices they make to themselves, and their families.

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