DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – About 20 fire fighters took to City Hall Wednesday, crying foul over a proposal to change fire dispatcher shifts to save the city money.
“I was in a meeting upstairs and I saw that they were protesting,” said councilwoman Carolyn Davis, who is the chair of the public safety commission.
Davis said she supported the fire fighters in their cause, but she was outvoted. As such, the current staffing of 10 dispatchers on 24-hour shifts will be lowered to eight who are staffed on 12-hour shifts.
“I didn’t support the layoffs of any employees,” Davis said. “But once again, it takes eight votes. And if you don’t get eight votes, you don’t get what you want.”
The city says it can save serious money by these reductions. It argues that, during the last fiscal year, the top 10 highest paid dispatchers pulled in well over $100,000. They cite overtime as the reason: The highest paid dispatcher received $151,410, whereas the 10th highest paid pulled in $121,020.
Even though the City Council wasn’t meeting Wednesday, many protestors said they are confident their message is still getting through. The point of their protest, they say, was to bring the issue into the public eye.
“When you’re looking to make budget cuts, you don’t have to go to the public safety sector first,” said Kyle Cowden, spokesman for the Dallas Firefighters Association.
Dispatchers are upset about the scheduling changes, which means they will be working four consecutive 12-hour days followed by three days off. Currently, they work a 24-hour shift and then receive three days off.
“Not seeing your kids for four days, that’s going to be a strain on our relationship, on my wife,” said dispatcher David Ashley.
Ashley, a 30-year firefighter, and his family have only known the 24-hour workdays.
“If I worked all night long, I wouldn’t see them at all at night and they would be gone before I could get home in the morning,” he said.
The City Council could still theoretically change its mind on the issue, but most say the changes are rightfully up to City Manager Mary Suhm.
A final vote on the city’s budget takes place next Wednesday.