Haverhill Firefighters Rally for Public Safety as Fiorentini Counters ‘It’s About Money’

Haverhill Fire Department Local 1011 held a protest against poor working conditions and understaffing on Nov. 4, 2019. (WHAV News photograph)

Haverhill firefighters rallied Monday in what they billed a protest against poor work conditions and understaffing, leaving Mayor James J. Fiorentini to call their effort—that took place the day before the election—a “thinly veiled attempt” to promote his political opponent.

Firefighters from Haverhill’s local union 1011 were joined by first responders from cities including Boston, Newburyport and Methuen along with Council candidates Fred Simmons, Kenneth E. Quimby Jr. and mayoral hopeful Daniel Trocki as they held signs that read “Staffing Saves Lives.”

Wearing a yellow T-shirt bearing the words “Protect those who protect you,” Union President Timothy Carroll told WHAV he is upset at the city’s top leader. Why? Carroll said Fiorentini has refused to listen to his union’s plan to gradually increase the minimum number of firefighters on shift from 19 to 25 over five years. Ideally, Carroll said Haverhill would operate with 28 firefighters in each of the city’s four stations: Bradford, Water, High and 16th Streets.

“Staffing saves lives and staffing matters. Every time you turn around, he tells everybody it’s about money. Well then, call my bluff,” Carroll implored. “It’s not about money for us: It’s about staffing and making our lives safer and the public’s lives safer.”

Having 19 firefighters on per shift—not counting those out sick or on vacation—presents a significant public safety risk, Carroll told WHAV. According to the National Fire Protection Association standards Haverhill’s 94 firefighters follow, 90 percent of calls should be responded to in four minutes, and 80 percent within eight minutes. In some areas of the city, response time is nearly 20 minutes due to current staffing constraints.

As the firefighters rallied below his City Hall office at the intersection of Main and Summer Streets, Fiorentini disputed Carroll’s claims that the protest was in the public’s best interest.

“This rally was not about public safety. It was about money,” Fiorentini told WHAV via email Tuesday afternoon. “The firefighters are angry that I am putting civilians to answer the phones and moving the firefighters to the stations to cut back on overtime. Their rally was a thinly veiled attempt to promote their chosen candidate and put the fox into the chicken coop.”

As previously reported, the union and mayor are at odds over the use of civilian fire dispatchers. Carroll argues firefighters have the necessary expertise to sit in the dispatch seat and guide their fellow colleagues during calls, while Fiorentini reasons that the best place for firefighters to be is on scene fighting fires.

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