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City, Fire Dept. Union Spar Over State Of Force

City Council-commissioned study of the Minneapolis Fire Department greeted with fury.

According to the Star-Tribune, the union that represents Minneapolis Fire Department is reacting with anger to a new top-to-bottom study of the department.

Commissioned by the City Council, the study was supposed to help the department figure out where the department should plant its feet after a rocky period where several city councilmembers suggested, during open council meetings, that firefighters were abusing sick time.

Several years of cutbacks have created a situation where large numbers of sick firefighters one day threatens the fire department's response times—described as "excellent" in the study. Fast response times are particularly critical in medical cases, to which firefighters frequently respond.

According to the study, sick leave time spiked on Saturdays in the summer. The firefighter's union has long claimed that staffing cuts mean firefighters are working harder, resulting in more injuries, and more danger to the individual firefighter.

"Given our current structure, then, decisions about staffing levels on the busiest day of the week in large part are up to (individual) firefighters," City Councilmember Betsy Hodges (Ward 13) told Patch. 

In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Joe Mattison, secretary of the firefighters union, downplayed the issue. He claimed sick leave usage spikes on only a few Saturdays.

"This is a minor issue, compared to the bigger overall issue of insufficient staffing and an increase in injuries," he said.

In her interview with Patch, Hodges expressed some skepticism of the union's claims. 

"That’s a big stretch," she said. "It's clearly not an ideal situation, but the consultant recommended staffing of 94 (firefighters). He wasn’t around screaming. Look at other cities with better staffing levels. Their firefighters are getting injured at a high rate, too."

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