HANFORD — Around 20 Hanford Fire Department firefighters lined the walls of the Hanford City Council Chambers on Tuesday night, and when it was time for public comment, four firefighters were the first in line to speak.
Members of the Hanford Firefighters Local 3898 union, which represents 27 fire department personnel in various positions, have been working without a contract with the city for over 18 months. The firefighters continue to operate under the terms of the last contract the union and the city held, which was supposed to end in July 2016.
Tom McKean, president of the union, previously told the Sentinel that the city is trying to reduce salary and benefits for firefighters by using a bad salary study and refusing to compromise with the union.
McKean said the Hanford Fire Department does not have competitive wages, which is reducing incentive to stay employed in Hanford and causing a retention problem.
The firefighters used their time during public comment at the meeting to address the council about the lack of a contract.
Firefighter Derek Weisser talked about the hours of time it takes to train a new firefighter, only to have them take their knowledge and skills to new departments.
“In recent years we’ve lost eight firefighters to Fresno alone,” Weisser said, adding those firefighters take their experience with them and cause a setback in the cohesion of the team.
Firefighter Gabriel Martinez said two positions, a battalion chief and a firefighter, have not been filled, although they are already budgeted for in the city budget.
“The shortage has created a situation where other members work up to 96-straight hours to fulfill the vacancy and maintain the minimum staffing of eight,” Martinez said.
Firefighter Connor Kurtz talked about how busy the firefighters are, saying they respond to more calls per capita than other local stations.
“The call volume of Hanford Station No. 1 rivals that of the busiest station in the city of Fresno,” Kurtz said, adding the salary study that the city had completed didn’t use cities the firefighters find to be comparable.
Kurtz said the city’s move to build a third fire station is a step in the right direction, but said the department has no formal plan on staffing the station with employees or equipment.
“The public believes the station will be staffed with new personnel and will have a new engine, but this is currently not the case,” Kurtz said. “The Hanford Fire Department does not have enough employees to staff the third station and continue our current staffing levels at Station 1 and Station 2, which could lower our level of service to Districts A, B and C.”
On Wednesday, Hanford City officials issued a joint statement related to the comments made by the firefighters at the meeting.
Officials said labor negotiations are the most difficult and painstaking process for a council members because they have to balance the taxpayer dollars with paying city employees appropriately.
The statement said the city never wants to lose good employees to other local cities based on pay, but knows Hanford cannot always compete with larger cities like Clovis, Bakersfield or Fresno. The firefighters are the only employee bargaining unit that has not come to an agreement based on a study of comparable cities.
HANFORD — Hanford firefighters have been working without a new contract for over a year-and-a-half, and they are tired of being ignored by the city.
“The other cities and county we compare to are fair and equitable — not just for the firefighters, but for all the employees in the City and to the taxpayers,” said part of the released statement.
The city said they stand behind the findings of the salary study that was performed by an independent third party.
Officials said every salary dollar adds to other costs for the city, including benefits, overtime pay and retirement costs.
“As a city, we simply cannot provide salary increases when the data shows they are unwarranted,” the released statement said.