Milford fire board, union to talk about new car-use policy

MILFORD — The city firefighters union and the Board of Fire Commissioners have agreed it would be in the best interests of everyone to discuss off-duty vehicle use before it escalates to the state level.

The commission voted to restrict usage of fire vehicles from 11 positions to five at its September meeting. The fire chief at the time, Louis LaVecchia, was concerned the new policy could inhibit the department’s ability to respond to an emergency situation.

Milford Professional Firefighters, bargaining agent for the firefighters, didn’t take a position at the September meeting. It filed a grievance at the commission’s November meeting, saying the off-duty usage for 11 positions had been past practice dating to at least 1996, when LaVecchia became chief.

Commissioner Howard Stein said not taking a position on the issue and then filing a grievance was “decision by ambush” by the union.

The board voted 4-3 to table a motion that would deny the grievance.

Commissioner John Healy made the motion to deny. “This has already been discussed at the other meeting,” he said. “This board has the power to enact new policy.”

Union President Michael Dunn said the new policy limits effectiveness of the department. “It delays the response time of fire investigators,” he noted. “The sooner they can get to the scene, the better.”

Members of the department go on the clock when they leave their house, Dunn said. A fire investigator has to drive to a fire station, switch to a department vehicle and then head to the scene. One department member had to drive to a fire station despite the fire being two streets away from his house, Dunn said.

Having firefighters drive back and forth while on the clock effectively eliminates any cost savings, he said.

“I know the commission is looking to save money … but I just don’t see it,” he said.

The affected positions could use vehicles only between work and home, not for personal use.

There is nothing within the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union about vehicle usage, said City Attorney Jonathan Berchem. Altering past practices could become subject to collective bargaining.

Both the city and a Fire Department have policies related to vehicle usage.

“An argument can be made both ways,” he said. “I would think the city (policy would prevail), but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Fire Department can’t expand on the policy.”