Imagine, for a moment, you are back in elementary school. You are the kid who is always being bullied around and picked on. Perhaps you were. You know what it feels like, and it isn’t a good feeling.
The people of the Fishtown community in Philadelphia could make a case for being bullied. The only problem with this particular case of bullying is that no teachers or principals will be able to step in and break it up.
Since Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced that the city was in a $2 billion hole last year, cuts have been made to suffice the new budget requirements, and it almost seems that everywhere you looked in Fishtown something, or someone, was being affected directly.
The administration’s long list of cuts and closures, including a number of swimming pools, recreational centers and branches of the city’s free library system. All of these amenities located in the Fishtown community were set to close.
Then, as if things didn’t seem bad enough, Mayor Nutter also announced that there would be an increase in property taxes, and that sales tax would increase from seven to eight cents on the dollar.
Although it is not intended to be a long-term increase, Mayor Nutter’s press secretary Doug Oliver said that the city needs the money to run services if the people of the city want to keep them running.
“You can identify your priorities, but somehow you have to be able to pay for them,” Oliver said. “Frankly, the taxes that the city receives from businesses and residents wasn’t enough to pay for all that they city provides.”
This caused not just a Fishtown-wide, but a city-wide outrage that seemed to turn into a somewhat mild uproar. Not the kind that you see on the television with people flipping cars and the SWAT team in full force, but enough noise was made by the people in the community to let Nutter’s administration know that the libraries, pools and recreation centers were a top priority.
These facilities will remain open for now, but the people of Fishtown weren’t able to save everything with their rallies and demonstrations.
Engine Six of the Philadelphia Fire Department, sharing a garage with Ladder 16 on Belgrade Street, was among a handful of fire engines in the city that were closed this year as a direct result of the new budget plan.
Oliver, along with Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, insisted that no jobs were lost with the closures, but Dave Kearny, a representative of the Philadelphia Firefighter’s Union Local 22 and an employee of Ladder 16, doesn’t agree.
He agreed with the fact that no current firefighters lost their jobs, but he said that the administration is using that to make the public believe that the closures aren’t such a bad idea after all.
When asked where the primary cuts would be, Commissioner Ayers said that there were holes, or vacancies throughout the department, and rather than paying new firefighters to fill these holes,or even paying current firefighters overtime, the administration decided it would shut down a select few fire engines, as well as other equipment, and relocate firefighters into the various openings.
Sounds like a pretty logical plan, and perhaps it will save money in the long run; but isn’t the primary goal of the fire department supposed to be to save lives?
This is the part that angered Kearney and other firefighters the most.
“I think [the administration] put in one more class [through the academy] and then no more after that,” Kearney said. “Then they turn it around and sell it to the public like it’s the firefighters’ fault, and that the firefighters are greedy for overtime.”
In this case, it doesn’t seem that many firefighters are even concerned about getting overtime. They’re just lucky that they were all able to keep their jobs.
“Most firefighters never even see overtime in their checks [anyway],” Kearney mentioned.
In these economic times, everyone wants to find ways to cut costs and save money, but the firefighters’ concerns are the recent increase in response times, and how that will affect the lives of the citizens of Philadelphia, including themselves.
With Engine Six out of commission, response times have increased with the next closest engine being over a mile away from the Belgrade location, but Commissioner Ayers insisted that response times still meet the national standards.
“You can’t take out a piece of equipment and expect that the response time that was there prior to that isn’t going to change,” the commissioner explained. “There’s going to be a slower response time.”
The firefighters in Philadelphia don’t seem to care that their response times still meet the standards. Kearney said that seconds count when it comes to a fire.
“We know as firefighters, the longer a fire is growing, or burning, the more dangerous it is for us to fight it, Kearney stressed. “The hotter that fire is, the more likely you are to get injured.”
Local 22 has launched a number of campaigns to attempt to do just as the community did for their libraries–rally to save their fire department.
The Firefighters’ Union has also taken the city to court on occasions, only to get turned away, causing more disappointment.
“We’ve filed numerous grievances,” Kearney said. “[But] we lost on technicalities on many of those.”
Kearney went on explain in disbelief that Judge Gary DiVito of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the city, saying that Local 22 had no evidence that the closures would pose any real threat of danger or increase response times.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re being bullied, and there isn’t a teacher or principal to defend you? That is what Local 22 is still trying to figure out and could be for quite some time. “It’s devastating,” Kearney said.