Fiscally stricken Woonsocket, Rhode Island recently informed its firefighters union that it would be replacing 15 vacancies in the fire department with volunteer firefighters. The Woonsocket Call reported:
The Woonsocket Fire Department would become the only urban fire district in the state to employ on-call volunteers under a cost-cutting edict issued this week by the Budget Commission – under the threat of a lawsuit from the firefighters union.
The firefighters won’t allow this to happen if they can help it. It is common for small communities of less than 10,000 people to use volunteer fire fighters. I have never heard of a mixed department, though some might exist. Maybe this precedent should be established as debt-burdened cities struggle to provide essential services.
Woonsocket is in dire financial shape. After several years of deficits, the state placed the city under a Budget Commission that was established and overseen by the director of revenue. The commission includes state and city-appointed designees. From The Call again:
‘The commission does not have the authority to break contracts,’ said [Capt. Michael Morin, president of the IAFF]. ‘They can’t just fill vacant positions with on-call volunteers.’