Minneapolis fire union calls on Rybak to restore staffing levels
Michael Dvorak for City Pages.
Minneapolis fire union president Mark Lakosky is putting fire fighter injuries at the door step of Mayor R.T. Rybak. In a recent letter published on E-Democracy, Lakosky blames Rybak for years of fire fighter cuts, arguing the mayor has left the department below safe minimum staffing levels.
The letter, a response to a Star Tribune Op/Ed, is yet another indication that morale is low and criticisms toward Minneapolis' elected officials are many within the department.
Among other things, Lakosky accuses Rybak of relying on advice from since-departed Rocco Forte, a former fire chief and city administrator who is more unpopular than the mayor in fire houses across Minneapolis.
Chief Forte's former boss, Tom Dickinson, testified under oath that it was necessary to maintain 110 firefighters to meet the needs of a city the size of Minneapolis. Yet, in an effort to promote himself and curry favor with the new Mayor, Forte convinced Rybak that the department could be run on 92 people per day. History has proven Forte to be absolutely wrong. And our members have paid the price.
To illustrate safety concerns, Lakosky points to the recent fire at Walker Community United Methodist Church that left several fire fighters injured. As Lakosky tells it, they were lucky to make it out alive.
The City has inadequately staffed the rigs with only three people, and the effort necessary to bring water into a fire like the Walker Church required more than just one person manning the line. The only way the Walker six got out was to crawl underneath the fire. There was no water. There was no way to fight the fire. The crew courageously crawled through the fire to get out. Eventually the water came on, but not before one of our firefighters was seriously burned. Her road to recovery will be long and painful.
Lakosky's criticism isn't new. As the department has become leaner over the years, Minneapolis fire fighters have frequently directed frustration toward City Hall.
In past interviews with City Pages, Rybak has acknowledged a grim situation in the fire department, but argued he's doing the best he can with state-level cuts to Local Government Aid.
"Considering what we've had to do, I'm proud of the work the city and the firefighters have been doing," Rybak told us in fall 2010, following the announcement of department layoffs. "We're going to do our best to get as many resources as we can get to them, but the sad fact and reality is, when you make massive cuts, there's consequences to them."
Read Lakosky's letter in its entirety on E-Democracy here.
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