Fire brass, union go toe to toe

  • Written by Don Mann
The Woodinville firefighters’ union — International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2950 —had been making some public noise recently about the negative impacts of Woodinville Fire & Rescue’s pending closure of Fire Station 34 due to the city of Kirkland’s annexation of the Kingsgate area.

The union’s complaints, some highlighted in a published May 9 letter to the Woodinville Weekly, are numerous: The six firefighters who were transferred to the Kirkland Fire Department were neglected throughout the annexation process and used as "pawns," and the union claims the closure of Station 34 was done without any plan to provide coverage to the remaining portion of the area still under the fire district’s jurisdiction.

Further, the union has been carping that Fire Chief David Daniels has added six administrative positions in his 18-month tenure during tough economic times, compromising services.

With perhaps two dozen union members in attendance at the regularly scheduled board meeting last Monday, WF&R board chair Tim Osgood, who said he felt compelled to respond to the "latest flurry of communication" in the media, wasted no time in firing back.

"While the board and the district staff are working very hard to establish a strong working relationship with the Local (union) it is difficult to do so when the Local does not respond in kind," he began in a prepared statement.

Osgood said it was not the place of the union to dictate levels of service to the public.

"That responsibility falls to this board," he added.

He then reminded the Local of its private June 2009 communication with the city manager of Kirkland to not oppose annexation, a directive that was out of bounds, he implied. Reaching back, he said then-Chief Dennis Johnson expressed concern about the "inappropriateness" of setting an agreement with Kirkland without the knowledge or consent of the district or its board.

"In short, the Local supported this annexation by its failure to oppose it publicly," he said, adding that the union has not demonstrated any appreciation for the fact that the district has retained as many employees as possible.

Speaking during public comment, Local 2950 representative Greg Garat saw it differently.

Beginning June 1 there will be more people in administration than there will be firefighters protecting the community, he said. In 2009 the board declared it was financially necessary to reduce executive staff to three, he said, but there are now six.

The Kirkland annexation took away 9 percent, approximately $1.4 million, of the district’s annual revenue, he said, resulting in the closure of a fire station and the layoffs of 10 firefighters.

Garat then challenged Osgood personally and by name.

"Commissioner Osgood, you said we were in financial crisis as a result of a gigantic downturn in revenue. You said it was important to move forward with the reduction in administrative staff in order to realize the district’s financial obligations. What has changed? Are we not still in financial crisis? Or do you no longer feel it’s necessary to meet the district’s financial obligations?"

Garat said the district has been placed on an unsustainable and irresponsible path and it was time to stop.

"You have sworn to oversee this fire district on behalf of the taxpayers and you are failing your obligation if you continue hiring administrators this fire district does not need and cannot afford."

That comment was met by rousing applause in the gallery.

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