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After getting all caught up on the back-and-forth going on between Captain Tom Kenney of the Providence, RI Fire Department and the city administration AND the Providence Journal newspaper, it is very clear that there is mutual disdain, to put it mildly.

Let me say right here/right now that I HATE sensationalist headlines.

You know the type if you have spent time on the Internet. It is a headline designed to get you to “click” on their story. Websites get paid by the number of “hits” that they get. It draws the unsuspecting reader to a story that in no way matches the urgency of its headline; example: “This Will Surely Lead to Charges Filed Against our President”. Yeah; right. They are “stories” that are speculative or wishful thinking at best.

These are headlines from the Providence Journal website: Tom Kenney: Fire spending critic fails to cite data; Otis Warren: EMS change in Providence could cut costs; Tom Kenney: Why firefighters shout at Mayor Elorza; Mayor Elorza drives up fire protection costs; Pare takes on fire captain in escalating fight over mayor's restruc...; Mark Patinkin: A firefighter gaming the system taints all firefighters; Jim Brown: You can't make this stuff up; and Tom Kenney: City paints false picture of my service.

There are bad actors in ALL occupations. Over the years, we have seen many of them posted on the Internet. Employees stealing, sleeping on the job, harassment, videos that show someone working a side job when they are “supposedly” off with an injury from their primary job and on and on.

This is not one of them.

What is clear to me is that some in Providence weren’t very pleased that Tom Kenney wasn’t drinking their Kool-Aid. In an effort to rein in costs, the city was looking at reducing the overtime paid to firefighters; not by hiring more firefighters, but by platooning the department and increasing the number of straight time hours worked in a week. I am surprised that there isn’t an FLSA or NLRB action, as far as I know. Last time I looked, firefighters were not exempt from the labor laws. But, I digress.

Tom became the voice of the Providence firefighters in an effort to arrive at a solution that would save the city money without compromising the safety and well-being of the firefighters. It appears that the city was only looking at saving money, regardless of any collateral damage; in this case, requiring firefighters to work more hours.

Now, I’m no fool. I have held many positions in the private sector and what happens with work hours is this: if we would tell employees that they were required to work overtime, they didn’t like it. If we told employees that we were ending all overtime, they didn’t like it. It was as if the employees wanted the overtime on their terms. Employees are funny that way. In truth, employees needed the overtime to earn their living, but seemed to resent it. Would the solution be to increase the hourly rate so that they wouldn’t have to rely on overtime? In the perfect world; yes, but when businesses are built on supply and demand, you must adjust your business plan to meet demand. You either hire temporary employees, train them, pay them and then lay them off when demand is met or you work existing employees on overtime. Since the social costs are already covered, overtime is cheaper. That’s the logic anyway.

What grabbed at me though is Mark Patinkin’s assertion that Tom Kenney was “gaming” the system and “tainting” all firefighters. And that might be the case, if it was true. But, it’s not.

Mr. Patinkin grabs your attention that Tom spent seven of his thirty-five years off work with injuries. Wow! How could he?

How could Tom average FIVE days a year during the life of his career off work? How could he be WELL BELOW the national average of THIRTEEN days away from work per year for our occupation? How dare he get hurt in an inherently dangerous job.

I managed workers compensation claims as part of my job in risk management. I know the system very well and an employee getting hurt is a small part of it. By that, I mean that, in terms of the process, it is all of the external tangibles that affects cost; costs that can be managed to a certain degree.

When Patinkin claims that Tom Kenney is “gaming” the system, that is to say that the city’s risk manager doesn’t know squat about his job, the doctors who treats work injuries are all quacks and the insurance companies only care about charging a higher premium for insurance. I didn’t say it; Mr. Patinkin did.

The process requires that you get an injured employee back to their pre-injury state and if you can’t, then you must assign a percentage of permanency and again, if you can’t do that, then you look at re-assigning them to a position with no loss in pay. You also pay for the partial permanent disability. Doctors must certify the outcome of the injured employee and the employer can request a “fitness-for-duty” exam to determine exactly what the employee is capable of doing.

So, to be clear; Tom Kenney could not, on his best day, “game” the system.

It was a smear campaign, pure and simple; a hack job of the worst kind.

To the Providence city administration: demonstrate that you are willing to cut out layers of bureaucracy and redundancy, reduce administrative pay and positions and all of those “feel good” initiatives and then, as a last resort, look at public safety.

Because in the end, it will be the citizens and firefighters of Providence who will suffer.

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine or PennWell Corporation. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.

 

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