The Arlington Fire Union says the county’s proposed budget for 2022-23 underfunds the fire department and puts residents at unnecessary risk, but county officials dispute that characterization.
The union wants the budget to support having someone with advanced resuscitation training on every fire department vehicle, which county officials say isn’t necessary. ALS providers are certified to treat critically ill patients with life-saving drugs or intravenous medications, among other training that goes beyond basic emergency medical care, also known as Basic Life Support.
Currently, Arlington has a mix of ALS and BLS medical units on duty at all times.
The budget also does not include bonuses for Swiftwater Rescue Team to reflect the riskier work they do, while wages have stagnated for rank-and-file members, according to the union.
The IAFF 2800, which represents more than 300 firefighters, is proposing to add $8.5 million to the 2022-23 budget to address these issues.
Budget decisions on wages “have resulted in reduced emergency services at the risk of potentially harming citizens, businesses and visitors to Arlington,” the union said in a letter to Arlington County Council and the County Manager Mark Schwartz. “It is in this spirit that we are bringing these issues to the forefront before they escalate to a point that causes unnecessary harm to the community we serve.”
The $8.5 million would provide a 7% raise to keep up with inflation, make firefighters whole for missed pay raises since 2018, provide a bonus for responders who have done more work due to a shortage of labor and increase compensation for the fast water rescue team, says the AIP.
County Executive Mark Schwartz says the union’s account is inaccurate and the county failed to cut costs.
“All county residents should know that there is no ‘unnecessarily dangerous situation’ and that every resident can rely on a strong, well-trained workforce to meet their needs,” he said. he stated in response.
Specifically, the ACFD has stepped up its medical care without “over-resourcing” every call through mobile diagnostics, on-site treatment and new technologies that give patients more options, he said, adding that “not all patients need an advanced healthcare provider. ”
Schwartz says the fast water rescue team isn’t getting a bonus, but he’s committed to adding compensation to the team on top of the funding that resolves stagnant wages.
Employee compensation is at the heart of the 2022-23 budget, which is currently being developed. Schwartz is proposing 6.5% wage increases for public safety employees and a $2.2 million increase for the fire department over the 2022 budget, according to a recent presentation.
Among other changes, the increase would fund the implementation of the Kelly day, which will cut each firefighter’s average workweek from 56 to 50 hours, improving work-life balance and reducing attrition, according to the county. The county has hired nearly 40 additional firefighters over four years to institute Kelly Day.
Today, the department is close to full staffing and has vacancies comparable to Arlington’s historical average, Schwartz said. The ACFD loses approximately two employees per month and there are currently 15 uniform vacancies.
“I hope the historic investments we’ve made over the past four years in a reduced workweek and best practices will continue to attract the best staff in the country,” he said.
The investments came after firefighters have fought for pay rises in recent years, IAFF 2800 chairman Brian Lynch said, adding Kelly Day has averted more layoffs.
“If we hadn’t had Kelly Day, we would have lost more people over that time,” he said. “A lot of firefighters have been studying this for four years, waiting for it to become one of two hardware upgrades.”
The other improvement — merit-based pay raises — has yet to materialize, Lynch said. Salaries start at $56,000 and members of the 2018 rookie class are expected to earn over $66,700 per year. Instead, he says, many only earn a few hundred dollars more.
Those increases would keep experienced firefighters in the ACFD, he says.
Fairfax County, where many Arlington firefighters live, is a popular destination because of its 10-week crash training program for veteran firefighters, who would otherwise have to repeat basic training and start taking a pay cut. if they move, IAFF 2800 organizer Jeremy McClayton mentioned.
“We will lose more people if we don’t get more competitive, faster,” he said.
Schwartz says “funding to deal with the wage squeeze, a significant issue being addressed by Local 2800,” is included in the budget.
Lynch says he hopes county council members, with whom the union is meeting, will commit to increasing the ACFD’s budget.
“I’ll give them credit for putting collective bargaining on the map,” Lynch said. “It shows that they value the officials and what we have to say, and we hope these conversations help us chart a better path forward.”
For its next step, the union plans to launch a petition that members of the public can sign to show their support for more funding.