HAMMOND | Firetruck No. 1 is back in service effective Wednesday and that makes for a safer city, Hammond officials said.
Hammond Fire Chief Jeff Smith said the additional aerial truck is a strong enhancement to public safety, noting that a minimum of three firefighters man a truck. The four aerial units complement a fleet of six fire engines and four ambulances.
“Having another aerial truck in service will make it easier to rescue people from an eight- or nine-story building,” he said. “And I like having the additional manpower on the street.”
Hammond took the aerial ladder truck out of service in 2011 for budgetary reasons. Ironically, Hammond firefighters’ rejection of a city contract in December is essentially getting the truck back on the street and also enabling the hiring of more manpower.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said that manning a fourth aerial truck “won’t cost the city a dime.” He explained that without a contract, Hammond firefighters will work, on average, an additional three to five days a year at the same pay. Thus, increasing available man hours makes putting the rig back in service financially feasible.
By not coming to terms on a contract with the firefighters union, the city will save $650,000 in various wage and benefits perks, which included additional vacation time based on seniority, provided under the former contact. Firefighters did receive 1 percent raises under the 2014 city salary ordinance, as did other city employees.
“The city offered the firefighters an 8 percent wage increase over three years, but they overwhelmingly turned it down,” McDermott said. “They said that 37 men on a shift made the city unsafe. Well, by saving that $650,000 we are making the city safer in that we can bring back Truck No. 1 and soon we’ll have 42 men per shift. Never in a million years did I think they would turn that contract offer down.”
However, McDermott wants to increase the annual bonus of $1,800 for firefighters who reside in Hammond to $5,000, noting that just less than 30 percent live in the city.
“Having public safety workers who live in the city means a lot to me,” McDermott said. “It means that those workers put a high priority on being part of the community where they work. To me, they should be rewarded.”
He added that taking the firetruck out of “regular” service had been tough decision, but Hammond now will be one of the most manned cities per capita in the state.
“During my term in office I’ve avoided laying off firemen or policemen,” he said. “In fact, the city will be hiring six new firemen in 2014.”
The new hires will be the first for the department in six years and bring staffing back up to 155 firefighters.
Now, without a contract, Hammond firefighters will work under the city employee handbook, as do other nonunion city workers. McDermott said he has no plans to reopen negotiations with the firefighters.
Hammond Firefighters Local 556 President Edward Lomeli was unable to be reached for comment Monday.