With the backing of fellow firefighters, Brownwood Professional Firefighter Association member B.J. Carnes told city council members Tuesday of the group’s concerns including pay, turnover and the “meet and confer” talks with the city.
Carnes said the meet and confer process — established by the Texas Legislature in 2005 as a way to reach an agreement with the city, and an alternative to collective bargaining and referendums — is not progressing well.
The Brownwood City Council recognized meet and confer with the Brownwood professional firefighters in November 2005. “Two years, five meetings, and a training session later, very little progress has been made towards a meet and confer agreement between the city and the Brownwood Professional Firefighters,” Carnes said, reading a written statement.
Carnes said salary comparisons show the Brownwood Fire Department as one of the lowest-paid departments in the state.
He said the department’s attrition rate is “staggering.” Thirteen firefighters have left since January 2005, and the department’s turnover rate in the past five years is 100 percent, Carnes said.
“At present we have eight rookies with less than one year experience. That is one third of your Brownwood firefighters. … This attrition is due directly to the pay, benefits and the morale of the department.”
Carnes concluded by asking council members to appoint a new meet and confer committee. “We do not wish to take the road of collective bargaining or a referendum decided by a vote of the people,” Carnes said.
Carnes also said, “It would be inappropriate not to acknowledge our men and women at the police department. They are fighting their own battle on many fronts. It will suffice to say that we support you in your effort to sustain respect and benefits worthy of your professionalism and acts of selflessness.”
The Brownwood Municipal Police Association recently began its own meet and confer process with the city.
In other business related to the fire department Tuesday, council members authorized the city manager to sign a sales contract with Red River Emergency Vehicle Sales to buy a 2007 Demonstrator rescue truck for the Brownwood Fire Department in the 2007-’08 fiscal year.
The proposed purchase price is $266,000, and quarterly payments through the city’s depository would be about $15,500, council members were told. Capital lease payments have been included in the preliminary budget for the new fiscal year.
The truck is priced as a demo, and the company is a vendor in a cooperative, which eliminates a separate bidding requirement, the council was told.
The retail price is $310,000. To “tie down” the truck, council members were told, the city needs to commit to its purchase, as other cities are interested in the truck.
The fire department has applied for a federal grant that would require a 10 percent city match, but fire officials said they don’t think the department is likely to receive the grant. The department has also contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture about possible funding for the truck.
The department’s existing rescue truck is 10 years old and overloaded, and was scheduled to be replaced last year, Fire Chief Del Albright told council members. The purchase of a replacement truck was cut from the current budget, however, Albright said.