South Lake Tahoe firefighters picket to build support | NevadaAppeal.com

South Lake Tahoe firefighters picket to build support

Adam Jensen
Nevada Appeal News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – Firefighters from the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, who are in the midst of contract negotiations with the city, staged demonstrations at the junction of highways 50 and 89 on Labor Day Weekend in an effort to rally public support.

Firefighters, joined by supporters, held large white signs with slogans such as “city council does not care about your public safety” and listing the phone numbers of city council members.

Their issues: what they describe as under-staffing, a 47 percent turnover rate at the department and 18-month-old contract negotiations.

National Fire Protection Association standards call for four-person crews on each fire truck, but South Lake Tahoe Fire Department operates with just two-person crews, according to Rick Myers, spokesman for the South Lake Tahoe Fireman’s Association.

He said the department, one of many to respond to the Angora fire, was not appropriately staffed during the emergency.

New recruits hired by the department often receive training in South Lake Tahoe and then head elsewhere for higher-paying positions, leaving staff in a perpetual state of basic training, Myers said.

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Contract negotiations, which could raise firefighters’ pay and increase retention rates, have been “getting nowhere,” the spokesman said on Friday. Myers called on people “to support firefighters and our issues,” by speaking during the public comment period of the City Council’s Sept. 11 meeting.

South Tahoe Fire Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti was not immediately available for comment Friday.

A statement on the progress of the contract talks was received via e-mail from South Lake Tahoe’s Human Resources Manager Janet Emmett on Friday.

“The city of South Lake Tahoe and the city’s Firemen’s Association are currently engaged in negotiations for a new labor agreement. The negotiations have been time consuming, but the city believes that everyone involved on both sides has been working together in a professional and productive manner,” the e-mail states. “The negotiations involve several complex inter-related financial and other issues. It is not unusual for time-consuming labor negotiations to be somewhat frustrating for everyone involved. However, the city believes that the parties will be able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.”

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Kathay Lovell declined to comment on the contract negotiations Friday, saying they are confidential.

That’s a situation that Councilman Ted Long would like to see change.

He is asking the city manager and city attorney whether there’s a way to make the negotiations open to the public. That way, the public could hear all sides of the issue, he said.

“After all, it is the tax payers’ money we are spending,” wrote Long in an e-mail. “If after seeing the complete story, the public wants us to act in a particular way, I am confident we will do so, but let’s not draw conclusions without all the facts.”

Long said he was disappointed that the firefighters seemed to be using the Angora fire – and the public’s appreciation of fire-fighting efforts during the disaster – to gain support for their side.