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Pittsburgh stands firm in bid to reassign rescue work from paramedics to firefighters

Bob Bauder
| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Pittsburgh won't back down from a plan to move rescue operations from paramedics to the fire department and would consider merging them if union negotiations remain at a stalemate, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.

“We think we negotiated a fair contract that makes residents safer,” he said. “At some point in time would we consider (a merger)? Perhaps.”

The city has been at loggerheads with its union Emergency Medical Services personnel since their contract expired in 2010. The main sticking point is rescue operations, exclusively performed by paramedics since 1977.

Ravenstahl said the larger fire department with 600 firefighters could provide more coverage and respond more quickly to vehicular accidents, floods or other situations requiring rescues.

“Moving the rescue work makes people safer,” he said.

Paramedics contend that people in life-or-death situations require critical medical care and that paramedics are most qualified to perform both functions.

Anthony Weinmann, president of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1, which represents 156 city paramedics, said the union wants only a guarantee that 24 paramedics assigned to rescue operations have defined work duties. He said the city's contract offer is too vague.

“We need assurances that those 24 people are utilized properly and are staffed ... so we can get our jobs done,” he said.

Ravenstahl said the city could have two additional ambulances if paramedics were assigned only to medical calls. Union leaders agreed to a contract that would move rescue functions but members voted against it and authorized a strike.

If paramedics strike, Ravenstahl said, the city would staff ambulances with EMS managers and answer rescue calls with assistance from firefighters.

Joe King, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1, could not be reached for comment.

Ravenstahl said he hopes to reach an agreement with paramedics.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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