Since our last Membership Meeting on January 29, 1997, Executive Committee member Dorothy Sticken has testified before the Arlington County Board in response to some of the concerns raised in this letter and BVSCA President Ernie Ragland has written a letter to The Arlington Journal concerning their Feb. 11, 1997, article titled "Union head's job is in line of fire" by Robert Gehl.
For our members information, Dorothy Sticken's testimony follows, along with the Arlington Journal article, and BVSCA President Ragland's letter of response.
Public Comment by Dorothy Sticken, February 22, 1997 Dorothy Sticken: "Chairwoman Bozman, Members of the Arlington County Board. My name is Dorothy Sticken. I live at 1020 North Quincy Street and I have been a resident of Arlington County for 29 years now.
Hello again Arlington... [in Spanish] -- Between talking and doing there is a big space. Board Member Jim Hunter, your goal this year is zero tolerance of fire related deaths but when you were chairman of this Board, there was a terrible thing happening in the fire department. They had defective fire fighting equipment and nothing was done about it until Arlington's most despicable secret was aired here in public comment. I do not think that I can take any faith in your saying now that your aim is for zero tolerance to fire related deaths. Well, everybody has zero tolerance to that in the first place, that is if they are decent.
But the matter is too complicated for me to go into it and that's why I've given you copies [the January/February 1997 issue of the BVSCA Newsletter], turn to the proper page of the problems that the fireman are faced with right now. Now during all that time that the firefighters had to use faulty equipment and one firefighter was burned so seriously that he had to have skin grafts. I heard nothing from you and nothing from Fire Chief Plaugher. Now, I'm wondering if the fire chief is, (buzzer) What was that? You mean to tell me I'm getting cut off already?"
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Well, your two minutes is up, if you could wrap up now."
Dorothy Sticken: "What?"
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Your two minutes is up so if you could wrap up now in just a sentence or two."
Dorothy Sticken: "Do I have any time left?"
Madam Chairman Bozman: "No you don't Ms. Sticken. The bell indicated that your time was up. So if you would just, you know take."
Dorothy Sticken: "I don't see how it could be up so quickly unless you counted the time that I [handed-out the January/February 1997 BVSCA Newsletters to the members of the Board]"
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Why don't you take a little bit more time but try to wrap it up in the next few sentences."
Dorothy Sticken: "Any how, there was no response from Fire Chief Plaugher and I'm wondering if he is just a figure head-- something like the ground hog who comes out once a year to forecast the weather and to have his picture taken. Chief Plaugher comes out occasionally for a photo-op and to hand out free smoke detectors. Now, I don't want anyone to say today that I'm against smoke detectors. Yes, yes, yes, smoke detectors are the first line of defense against a fire. But there is also the matter of the firemen having to wait outside in some cases until another fire company arrives before they can enter and this is a scam to get around OSHA's requirements."
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Can you wrap up now in a sentence or two please."
Dorothy Sticken: "I will try to wrap up now, thank you chairwoman. So I ask you to consider, I don't know whether it happened or not but the case of that Hispanic man, the four Hispanic deaths, the case of the Hispanic man with the little daughter in his arms getting almost to the door and out to safety. I don't know if that was one of the times that the firefighters had to wait after they got there for another engine to arrive.
But if it was, everybody better, if they wake up at night, they better think about this pretty seriously because in case of a fire, seconds count as well as minutes. And a fire can become horrendous in a matter of seconds and this sort of thing should not go on in Arlington. I will say again ... [in Spanish] -- There's a big difference between talking big and doing something."
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Thank you."
Dorothy Sticken: "Thank you Arlington for listening."
Madam Chairman Bozman: "Next speaker."
Board Member Hunter: "Madam Chairman, before the next speaker comes up, I would just like to take a second if I may to commend the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association on the excellent article they had on the page that Ms. Sticken pointed out to us, as a matter of fact on Arlington-A Zero Tolerance Fire Zone. Thank you Madam Chair."
ARLINGTON JOURNAL FEBRUARY 11, 1997
FRONT PAGE: Union head's job is in line of fire
BY: Robert Gehl
The Arlington County Fire Department's most outspoken employee is facing the possibility of having his job eliminated.
Mike Staples, president of the Arlington Fire Professional Firefighters Association, has learned his job as battalion aide-- along with two other battalion aide positions--would not be funded if the County Board passes County Manager Anton S. Gardner's recommended budget for fiscal year 1998.
The budget was actually prepared by Fire Chief Edward Plaugher's office and forwarded to Gardner, but Gardner signed off on it and forwarded it to the County Board. Gardner said a battalion aide, who assists the battalion chief on the scene of fires, is unnecessary and other ways of assisting the battalion chief would be found. Staples said he would be demoted to firefighter and would take a pay cut from $44,000 to $41,500.
Staples wouldn't say if he sees the job cut as political--a result of his sometimes stormy relationship with management--or simply a cost-cutting measure. But he did say it "sounds fishy." "Isn't it an incredible coincidence? It's just amazing," he said.
Plaugher said the notion that Staples' job was targeted for political reasons is "crazy." "We're trying to streamline management," he said. "It's as simple as that. Frankly, I like [Staples]."
While Staples would technically receive a decrease in salary, Plaugher said Staples could take a paramedic course and receive an additional $10,000 per year as a combination paramedic and firefighter.
In place of the three job cuts, Gardner has proposed hiring three more firefighters to increase the number of people on fire trucks from three to four--something the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommended the county do months ago.
If approved, the addition of three firefighters would still leave seven of the 10 stations with only three-person firetruck crews. There are 174 firefighters in Arlington. "We think it's a bad idea to rob Peter to pay Paul," Staples said. "You don't handcuff one part of your operation to bring another part up to snuff." Staples said any time there is a reduction in the work force, the response time suffers. "If they eliminate the battalion aide, someone else is going to have to do what they did, and that means one more person not fighting a fire," he said. "This budget process really detracts from our services." Staples said if it weren't for the salary decrease, he wouldn't mind being demoted to firefighter. "I've always enjoyed being in the field," he said. "But financially I don't appreciate that kind of pay cut."
Mark Jinks, director of management and finance for Arlington, said when county officials were discussing cutting positions, names were never brought up. "[This plan] is consistent with the county's direction," he said. "We're reducing the number of supervisors and the number of assistants to supervisors throughout the county. We're trying to flatten the management structure."
Plaugher said he knows some people may view the job cuts as political. "Sure, I know what they'll see it as, but there's nothing I can do about that," he said.
Arlington Journal Friday February 21, 1997
Letter to the Editor: Union firefighter benefits Arlington
I am troubled by your Feb. 11 article concerning Mike Staples, president of the Arlington Professional Firefighters Association. The article said he could lose his battalion aide position, along with the elimination of two other battalion aide positions, as part of County Manager Anton Gardner's proposed fiscal 1998 budget.
Most members of our civic association have long supported increased funding of the Arlington Fire Department. Also, members have expressed special appreciation to Mike Staples, the Firefighters Association president, for bringing to the forefront critical issues that affect the protection of life and property and the prevention and control of fires.
Many members have expressed concern about the Fire Department's significant safety violations in 1996 that were identified by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement.
Instead of providing four personnel to satisfy nationally recognized safety standards and to resolve the violations, the county plans to continue to staff nine of 14 engine and truck companies with three personnel. Also, we understand the county is considering reducing the number of companies in an attempt to close one or more fire houses. We strongly disagree.
Instead of eliminating these battalion aide positions, we urge Gardner to recommend increased funding to the County Board for the Fire Department and a special award for Mike Staples for his outstanding leadership and support of the firefighters and Arlington residents.
ERNIE RAGLAND, Arlington
The writer is President of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association.