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State, ACFD back in court over staffing cuts

A Superior Court judge will consider whether to lift his ban on Atlantic City Fire Department staffing reductions that would allow the state to cut the Atlantic City Fire Department by a quarter.
That will bring the already thin department to a dangerous level for even a medium-scale event, according to two experts who have submitted reports on the fire union’s behalf.
But the state says the change to three platoons from four, and an increase in hours back its numbers. An independent study from the state fire marshal sides with them as well, the state’s attorney said.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez heard arguments from both sides for about two hours Friday morning, and said he will make a decision in the next few days. The last two times he said that in a matter involving the state facing off against either police or firefighters, it took several weeks.
“This is a heavy burden that I have,” he told those gathered in his courtroom Friday, including several firefighters who brought their spouses and children.
The department is currently at 198 firefighters, down from 225 when the case began. But the state wants to reduce it 148 firefighters. That’s up from the 125 originally proposed.
To get to the number, the state wants to lay off approximately 80 firefighters being paid on a federal grant that expires in September, then rehiring about 35 of them.
“It’s a want, not a need,” state attorney Ron Israel said of the union’s numbers.
Mendez previously put a temporary injunction on the personnel reductions as the sides continue to battle in and out of court. He has allowed significant changes to the firefighters’ contract, including reduction in pay and benefits, and an increase in hours.
That would put on-duty staff at 36 firefighters, according to the union numbers.
“This would prevent the ACFD from being able to efficiently fight a working high-rise fire,” retired Deputy Chief James Smith wrote in an affidavit obtained by BreakingAC.
A Philadelphia firefighter for 41 years, Smith provides a 13-point list of obstacles in fighting high-rise fires for which Atlantic City’s department is specifically trained.
Atlantic City’s diverse architecture makes it important to fully staff the department, two experts said in affidavits arguing against the state’s proposed personnel cuts.
Even at current numbers, the department is barely able to meet the staffing requirements for even a single medium-scale event, wrote John Norman, a New York City firefighter for more than 47 years, including 38 as a trainer.
“The staffing per unit is below that which is required to mount an attack on a working fire in many of its occupancies,” he wrote.
The city has 200 or more fires per year. Additional responsibilities, such as vehicle crash response, extrications

, hazardous-material emergencies and rescues further add to that workload, Norman said.

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