The City of Providence closed two fire stations and three companies yesterday. There was no public outcry, no candlelight vigils, no “Save our Station” protests, just firefighters leaving their station for the last time and locking the door behind them. Those firefighters start their new assignments today, different station, different truck, different life.
In a different time, and a different world closing one fire station was absolutely unacceptable. The union would rally the troops, pamphlets would be distributed, neighborhood groups would convene, city leaders would be lobbied and the station would be saved.
For seventeen months the firefighters in Providence have worked a schedule like no other, two 10 hour days, two fourteen hour nights, two days off then do it all over again, week after week, month after month. Mandatory overtime due to staff shortages resulted in one day off a week, after 70 plus hours on duty.
This is Providence, the capitol city of Rhode Island. The “slow” fire companies respond to thousands of calls annually, the busy ones approaching 5000. Fires are a daily occurrence, most don’t make the news because the firefighters are excellent at what they do and put them out before they become newsworthy. EMS crews run non-stop, many of the personnel working 80 plus hour weeks.
But all of that is over now. Mayor Jorge Elorza and Commissioner of Public Safety Stephen Pare orchestrated a campaign to destroy the morale of the firefighters, exhaust them, weaken the union, close companies and stations and save money. By utilizing their management rights in regard to scheduling they eliminated one of four working groups, drastically increased the hours worked by front line firefighters, refuse to fill vacant management positions with experienced fire officers and completely ignore the extremely busy EMS division.
The public remained silent.
There is no fire chief. There is no administration. There is no leadership. All qualified candidates have been silenced. Retired State Police administrators fill the offices once occupied by seasoned firefighters who climbed the ranks the old-fashioned way; one rung at a time. There is no firefighting experience in the front office. There is no vision, no pride, no tradition, nothing but empty shells playing with people as if they were nothing more than chess pieces being moved by people who do not understand the game.
Congratulations, Providence, your apathy has saved you some money.
We’ll be hearing from you soon enough.