Firefighter Cuts In D.C. Could Signal Same For St. Mary's, Says Union

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (July 10, 2008)—The head of a regional group of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) says that decisions by the chief of District-based federal firefighters, Regional Fire Chief Edward G. Stillwell, to cut jobs in the District could be a warning signal that the same may happen at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and other federal workplaces closeby.

Greg Russell, president of the National Capital Professional Federal Firefighters Local 121, which represents federal firefighters in Maryland, Virginia and the District, said Stillwell’s decision comes about three months after the local union took a vote of no confidence in their leader, in which Patuxent River NAS firefighters took part.

If similar cuts in federal firefighting staff happen at the local U.S. Navy base, Russell said, the base may have to call upon county already strained county resources to complete their mission.

“If they’re willing to make cuts in the nation’s capital then they won’t hesitate to cut members in rural locations like St. Mary’s County,” Russell said.

There are about 60 to 70 federal firefighters assigned to the base, Russell said, but that number could actually be less because of supposed attrition problems.

“Since Stillwell has been in charge attrition rates [in the union’s region] have been higher than in previous years,” Russell told The County Times.

Russell said that the no-confidence vote came after Stillwell persisted in not heeding firefighters’ concerns about safety precautions and proper training for his troops.

Stillwell also did not provide adequate safety equipment to firefighters, Russell claimed, as well as radio that could be used on military frequencies.

The recent cuts in the District, Russell said, meant that for every four-person crew assigned to an apparatus, there was one now taken away.

For the 20 firefighters on duty in the District at federal sites on a given shift that reduced the number to 16 firefighters available, Russell said, or a reduction of about 20 percent.

Stillwell has already cut the number of positions at the station at Patuxent River, Russell said, by about 6 positions a year-and-a-half ago.

“They were essential,” Russell said of the positions cut at the base fire house. “They’re taking a calculated risk in making these cuts.”

The recent cuts in the District, made July 2 according to Russell, had federal firefighters worried.

“It’s just one more thing that indicates he doesn’t care for our safety,” Russell claimed.

Phone calls to Stillwell were not returned as of press time.

Russell said that if Stillwell did not act to either reinstate the positions or take action on the union’s safety concerns, they would take a censure resolution drafted from the no-confidence vote in May to the IAFF yearly convention.

Russell said the local union would push the larger union to bring pressure to bear on Stillwell’s command to bring about the change they wanted.

The local federal firefighters union represents about 200 firefighters in the capitol region.

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