Firefighter labor agreement up for commission vote

Commissioners will consider a new labor agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 8, the Great Falls firefighters union.

The agreement includes the same three percent cost of living increase as other city employees, plus a two percent market adjustment to keep wages competitive with other fire departments in the other major Montana cities.

The agreement also creates the rank of lieutenant, which falls between engineer and captain, at Great Falls Fire Rescue.

According to the staff report, the more than 20 acting captains at GFFR are not getting enough practical command experience prior to being promoted to captain.

The lieutenant duties would include managing programs and projects delegated to them from captains and battalion chiefs, serving as the acting captain, acting as an office in charge of additional apparatus should they be needed for disasters, special events or other times the department deems it necessary.

New engines rolling at Great Falls Fire Rescue

The lieutenant position is common in the fire service and other departments in Montana have the position in their rank structure.

Those in the lieutenant positions would be the only members assigned to these duties in the absence of a captain, allowing for more direct experience and training prior to promotion.

The move also saves the city from spending on acting captain pay and under the current system, all of the acting captains are eligible to take the promotion test. That also makes preparing, testing and selecting new officers difficult.

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The new lieutenant position will limit the pool of firefighter eligible to take the captain promotion test to eight people, allowing senior officers to focus their attention on training and preparing them and be better able to evaluate the lieutenants performance.

GFFR Chief Steve Hester said the department will use a promotion process similar to that for other officer positions in the department. Eight will be promoted, if this agreement is accepted, through a competitive process, Hester said.

The proposed agreement also adds certification pay as additional compensation for firefighters who earn and maintain specialized training in GFFR. The pay was added for the following credentials: technical rescue, hazardous materials, fire investigator and special services.

During the budget process, the commission created a new fire inspector position, which during this fiscal year will be paid $47,380 annually. The captain inspector is a supervisory role and the proposed agreement adds $100 monthly as special pay for that position.

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The wage adjustments amount to an increase of $205,025 in year one and $188,092 in year two, plus an increase of $37,814 for certification pay.

Commissioners also approved a $35,000 increase for GFFR for occupational health examinations for members. Those physicals are designed for more robust monitoring and maintaining the health of firefighters and catching duty related illnesses early.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, commissioners approved a $99,979.23 purchase of radios from Motorola Solutions. GFFR had 20 radios that were 12 years old and could no longer be serviced since Motorola ceased making parts. That meant about a third of GFFR’s radios were out of service. According to GFFR, the radio shortage and frequent failure caused a communication breakdown for firefighters in the field and incident commanders.