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Union, fire department to work together on out-of-control overtime costs

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City firefighters respond to call from the city's Station No. 1 downtown last week.

PHIL HOSSACK / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

City firefighters respond to call from the city's Station No. 1 downtown last week.

The president of the Winnipeg firefighters’ union expects the overtime issue to be resolved without eliminating any jobs or compromising safety.

Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, issued a news release earlier today stating he had his first meeting with acting fire chief Bill Clark and he expects they can come up with realistic options over the next two months to curtail the skyrocketing overtime bill.

"We are pleased to announce that, after extensive discussions, the union and the (fire) Department are committed to working together to minimize overtime without compromising public safety, firefighter safety or our ability to serve the public in responding to fire and EMS emergencies," Forrest said in a prepared statement.

Clark was unavailable for an interview but a civic spokeswoman said the two men discussed 20 options to reduce OT costs, adding that some may be implemented immediately and others will require further discussion.

"The Chief (Clark) reiterated his commitment to working with the union to seek solutions and assured Winnipeggers of his commitment to the safety of the public and employees while operating the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service within its approved budget."

Forrest and Clark got into a heated exchange of words last week after word got out that Clark was proposing a reduction in staffing at two fire stations to deal with overtime costs that are expected to be 86 per cent over budget.

Forrest said Clark’s proposals would increase response times and compromise firefighter and public safety. Forrest argued that increased overtime was the result of too few firefighters on payroll and more should be hired; Clark told councillors the OT bill was caused by too many firefighters calling in sick.

Mayor Sam Katz told both men to cut out the drama, sit down and come up with solutions they can support.

Both men met for the first time to discuss the issue this week and it appears that Forrest expects the dispute to be resolved amicably.

"Over the next two months strategies will be implemented that we believe will be successful in dealing with the overtime costs associated with saving lives in the city of Winnipeg," Forrest said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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