YONKERS, N.Y. – Both City Hall and Yonkers firefighters are touting victory Thursday after a court decision will keep the department responding to medical emergencies for the time being.
On Wednesday, State Supreme Court Justice Sam Walker upheld a previously issued temporary restraining order that prevented the city from following through with a plan that would have eliminated the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services program as of Jan. 1.
The decision on whether the program survives will now be made by an independent arbitrator by the end of February.
“This is a victory for Yonkers firefighters and the citizens of Yonkers,” firefighter’s union president Barry McGoey said. “The city's threat to remove the Fire Department from the EMS program endangers the safety of both civilians and firefighters.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Spano’s office is hailing the decision as a way to force the union to “engage in meaningful negotiation,” something they have not done, Spano said.
“This stops the stonewalling and requires the firefighters’ union to come to the table before an arbitrator,” he said. “That’s what the taxpayers need, and now they will get it.”
City officials said the proposed EMS cuts are part of a continuing effort to trim overtime costs within the department. The city projected overtime costs within the department are roughly $7 million per year.
Officials argue first-responder duties would be better handled by a private ambulance company. The fire department responds to 46 percent of all medical emergencies, whereas the city's contracted ambulance service responds to all of them, they said.
In addition, Spano's office said firefighters are paid a stipend as emergency medical technicians, even though a third of firefighters have lost their certifications because of failure to take mandatory training.
“They want to be paid for something they don’t do and the taxpayers can no longer afford it,” Spano said.
Union leaders dispute the city’s numbers and say fire engines are often the first to arrive to stabilize victims before turning them over to paramedics for treatment. The city's plan to eliminate the First Responder Program would also result in the closure of two fire companies, union leaders said.
"The city administration will have to decide which two neighborhoods don't deserve the level of fire protection they have been provided for nearly 100 years," said McGoey.
The union president added that firefighters have been willing to negotiate and any claim otherwise is untrue.
“Any claim that the firefighters have been stonewalling is ridiculous,” he said. “We have been ready, willing and able to have an arbitrator make a decision.”
In a related issue, firefighters and city officials will meet with an arbitrator Tuesday to discuss Spano’s cost-cutting plan that would reduce the department’s minimum staffing numbers. A temporary restraining order issued last year has prevented that plan from taking effect.