Disagreement between CSFD and city over collective bargaining

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 5, has had enough.

"We believe that firefighters are one of the key voices when it comes to public safety," said John Roy, deputy campaign manager for IAFF Local 5.

IAFF Local 5 has collected nearly 30,000 signatures needed to put collective bargaining on the city's April 2 ballot.

They say they are underpaid, understaffed, and want to sit down with the city government and negotiate employee conditions.

"The national average is 1.28 firefighters per 1,000 people," Roy said. "We are sitting at .9 firefighters per 1,000 people. We have 444 firefighters, and ultimately we could justify 600 or so for 70,000 calls a year. Our firefighters are doing a lot of work."

However, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is not buying it.

Suthers said public safety is the city's top priority, and meeting the association's demands will hurt other public safety sectors.

"That means police get less or public works get less," Suthers said. "As I say, they don't get more and everybody else gets the same. Someone will get less. It really is a matter of fairness. We don't give collective bargaining to police."

We compared Colorado Springs to Virginia Beach, Virginia, since they are similar in population size.

Based on the pay scale of 56 hours of work per week, Virginia Beach firefighter recruits start off by making $42,723 annually and can work up their way to master firefighter, making a maximum of $77,230.

Colorado Springs firefighters who rank fourth class start off making $58,704 and can work their way to first class, making $79,884 a year.

The cost of living in Colorado Springs is 3.25 percent lower.

"I emphasize that we want to make sure our firefighters and police officers are our top priority," Suthers said. "The equipment is good. They are well compensated. We recruit and retain high-quality individuals, and that's always been our objective, and our budget reflects it."

"Firefighters are truly a trusted voice in public safety, and ensuring that firefighters do have a voice benefits not only us, but residents, because we know what the community needs for public safety delivery," Roy said.

Another issue Local 5 says they have is slow response times.

CSFD has a standard of an eight-minute response to 90 percent of their calls. They try to have at least two engines and a truck arrive within 12 minutes for structure fires and other major calls.

2017 records show there are areas in the city where CSFD failed to meet that, especially in the northeastern part of town.

"In today's modern fires with the plastics that burn, every single second counts," Roy said. "We are talking a matter of minutes making the difference between potentially saving lives. It's a huge area of concern and it's a huge focus in our campaign."

"Keep in mind that 85 percent of all the calls the fire department responds to are medical," Suthers said. "I don't think a lot of citizens understand that. Eighty-five percent of the calls they respond to are medical. Only 15 percent are fire, or other issues. And our response times, you know, they'll say, 'well, we slipped two seconds last year,' or something like that. The fact of the matter is, our response times are generally good."

In 2017, firefighters responded to more than 69,000 calls. More than 43,000 were medical.

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