Firefighters are a unique and devoted group of people who generally live half of their lives in a fire station somewhere, grocery shopping, cooking and eating meals and sharing their firehouse homes with their colleagues until the alarm sounds and they are jolted into the reality of their jobs. They leap into action, donning their turnout gear in record time, fire up the trucks’ engines and head into the heart of whatever fire has erupted. They work hard and are devoted to their occupations, risking their lives regularly as part of their careers.
Firefighters in the Chicago area went on strike in 1980 because of new guidelines that were implemented reducing the number of staff required to be on hand in fire stations, without considering the overtime pay such minimum staffing standards would generate. All these years later, the City’s contract with firefighters dictates that at least five firefighters are required to man every firefighting vehicle, but the City’s Mayor, Rohm Emmanuel, wants to reduce that number to four employees per vehicle, eight total, in fire stations that have both fire engines and trucks (“double houses”), which has met with great resistance from the Chicago Firefighters Union. In addition to the reduction in numbers of new hires required by the budget, many older firefighters are retiring, further complicating the understaffing problems of the City’s fire department.
This understaffing has resulted in millions of dollars being spent by the City to defend discriminatory and other undefined “legal issues” related to the lack of hiring new firefighters which, in turn, has not only contributed to the City’s inability to hire new firefighters, but also required the City to spend more than $40 million dollars this year alone for overtime compensation of firefighters the City does employ, which is more than double the amount authorized in the City’s budget for overtime spending.
After many meetings, defense of costly discrimination lawsuits filed by women who were denied jobs because of their inability to meet strict physical standards (that have now been abolished) and the retirement of approximately 245 firefighters at the end of 2013, the Chicago Fire Department is finally now conducting firefighting academy classes for new employees, which it hasn’t done for 8 years. The City intends to conduct a series of classes of approximately 150 students, each beginning at the half-way point of the previous class, to alleviate the runaway overtime spending that has gone from over $13 million in 2011 to $40 million in 2013. This will hopefully resolve the understaffing problems, which have plagued the City of Chicago’s fire departments for years and drastically reduce the enormous amounts of money the City has been paying for overtime work performed by firefighters. Which in turn will help with some of the Chicago Personal Injury claims.