Tulsa Firefighters Respond To Furlough Days

Sunday, July 12th 2009, 5:33 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Tulsa firefighters have voted to accept the City of Tulsa's proposed budget - which includes eight furlough days for all 685 firefighters. The announcement was made Saturday.

The alternative would have meant dozens of layoffs at the Fire Department.

With sales tax revenue down, city leaders say all city employees taking furlough days was the only way to avoid cutting jobs and balance the budget.

All other city unions have voted and accepted the city's contract, choosing furlough days over layoffs.

The News On 6 spoke to many firefighters who say they had no problem with taking those furlough days, which amounts to a 3% pay cut. But they say they feel taken advantage of by a take-it-or-leave it offer and some say the cost cuts are hurting public safety.

Firefighters at Station 22 have seen a lot of changes. In July, they became the first station to get a medical squad truck, but they had to trade out one of their engines.

"There's no water on here. There's no jaws of life to help us with a car wreck. So, yet again, that's a drawback of having a squad program," said Dustin Fletcher, a firefighter.

The Firefighters Union narrowly approved a contract that includes eight unpaid furlough days. The mayor's office threatened dozens of layoffs Monday morning if it didn't pass.

7/12/2009  Related Story: Firefighters Vote For Furlough Over Layoffs

"Well, I mean, we're all going to look out for one another. I mean, that's the biggest thing about this. Nobody wants to see their brother lose a job," said Fletcher.

Firefighter Dustin Fletcher says to save jobs, he helped approve a contract with a long-term vision he finds problematic.

"Would you rather have two of these trucks here that have water, or one without water and one that does," Fletcher asked.

Two stations have already done the fire truck for medical truck swap. Three more will make the switch over the next 24 months.

"That means five less fire trucks to protect the citizens. That could mean longer response times, if the existing fire trucks are out on other calls," said Rick Blevins, a firefighter.

City officials say 70% of the Tulsa Fire Department's runs are for medical calls and the smaller vehicles save hundreds of dollars on each run.

Rick Blevins says it feels like the city has turned its back on its emergency responders.

"We're willing to do the job. We just need the support and the equipment," said Rick Blevins.

Tulsa police and other city workers already approved their new contracts, with mandatory furlough days.

The Firefighter Union was the last piece needed to finish this year's budget puzzle.

The furloughs will save the city about $5 million. The Firefighter Union will have a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss the new contract.