Pittsburgh paramedics reject contract 134-9
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Pittsburgh paramedics Friday voted down a contract proposal that was tied to the city's plan to shift rescue work to the fire bureau and put more ambulance crews on the street.
Medics voted 134-9 to reject the proposal. Union members also authorized their leadership to call a strike, although no strike date immediately was set.
"We'll wait and see what the mayor's office wants to do," said Anthony Weinmann, president of Local 1 of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics.
A city spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Mr. Weinmann, declining to go into specifics, said several issues prevented the contract from "meeting the members' needs," and he felt that was reflected in the "strong vote" to oppose it.
Paramedics have been working without a contract since December 2010. Talks for a new agreement were complicated by the city's proposal to shift rescue work from medics to the fire bureau, part of the city's plan to create a nimbler network of public safety services.
The Emergency Medical Services Bureau now operates about a dozen ambulances and two rescue trucks. Often, both rescue trucks respond to a call.
To improve efficiency and response time, the city proposed putting vehicle extrication equipment on firetrucks, which respond to accidents anyway. The city also proposed creating a joint paramedic-firefighter unit for more sophisticated rescues, such as those involving confined spaces or industrial accidents. With fewer paramedics needed for rescues, the city could put more ambulance crews on the street at peak call times.
Under the plan, medics would have kept their responsibilities for diving and the North Shore-based river rescue unit, and they would have remained part of the inter-bureau swift-water rescue teams created after the flash flood on Washington Boulevard killed four people last year.
The plan would have tapped excess capacity in the fire bureau. Firefighters often have down time between calls, they are trained in vehicle extrication, and their newer trucks have space for storing rescue equipment.
The change also would have permitted the refocusing of an EMS bureau that the city believes is stretched too thin. Ambulance crews often run from one incident to another because of high call volume.
In addition, the city believes that the bureau would be overwhelmed during a catastrophe. During a bridge collapse, for example, medics would be responsible for triage and transportation of the injured, river rescue and rope rescue, among other duties.
State overseers have urged the city to shift rescue work to the fire bureau, and the city's amended financial recovery plan, adopted in 2009, requires the change. In many other cities, rescue work has been integrated into the fire department.
First Published October 6, 2012 12:00 am