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Connellsville reaches agreement with paid fire department

Connellsville City Council has reached a three-year agreement with its paid fire department, represented by Local 1917 of the International Association of Firefighters.

The agreement takes effect Jan. 1 and will last through Dec. 31, 2013. The most significant change from the current contract eliminates the three-man clause, which will allow the two most senior members to retire. The contract also contains a no layoff clause.

The contract includes a provision that will allow the senior firefighters to keep full health benefits paid by the city for 18 months if they retire by March 31. Chief Dennis Petrowski, a 41-year veteran, and Lt. Bill Mickey, a 38-year veteran, are affected by this part of the contract. They would not comment on the contract.

Promotions will take effect Dec. 1, with Mickey becoming deputy chief and 10-year veteran Craig Gates moving up from driver to lieutenant.

“I will continue as driver when they retire,” Gates said. “I will staff the department from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, the same as now. I don’t think there will be any problems with New Haven Hose Company covering the city,” Gates said. He is not a member of New Haven.

Councilwoman Marilyn Weaver, director of public safety, said annual raises will be as follows: 4 percent in 2011, 0 percent in 2012 and 2 percent in 2013.

Insurance coverage will remain the same, except for 18 months of city-paid COBRA coverage if Petrowski and Mickey retire from Jan. 1 through March 31.

“All three firefighters signed off on the agreement,” Weaver said. Council agreed to it at its Nov. 17 meeting, but could not disclose details because the firefighters had not all seen and agreed to the new contract.

“It’s important to remember what these paid firemen and those who came before them did,” Weaver said. “I think all the people in the city need to thank these firemen and those who came before them for their service and their willingness to work with this and previous administrations for the safety and betterment of the city.”

She also appreciates the volunteers. “We’re lucky to have the New Haven Hose Company.”

As to what the future will bring, Weaver said council will have to make some decisions on the best use of the East Side Fire Station.

“It’s going to be a period of adjustment,” she said. “The main goal was removing the three-man clause. We wanted to work something out to the benefit of the firemen and to the city’s benefit, and I think we did that.”

Councilman Brad Geyer, director of accounts and finances, said allowing two firefighters to retire will “be a benefit for the city over several years. We should see $50,000 to $60,000 savings the first year, $100,000 the second and $140,000 to $150,000 the third. Eventually we will have very minimal cost. Some savings will translate into an increased allotment to New Haven Hose.”

From a financial point, Geyer called the contract “a great thing for the city.” He also said it will not reduce but actually increase public safety.

“I think it will cause the city to ultimately become safer,” he said. “New Haven Chief Bob Topper has done a wonderful job working with local departments. There will be a stronger relationship with the greater Connellsville area: South Connellsville, Connellsville Township, Bullskin Township and others will work with us and we will work with them.”

Geyer gave a great deal of credit to Mayor Charles Matthews.

“He has really worked hard on the contract,” Geyer said. “It took someone like him bringing the right people to the table to accomplish something like this.”

Matthews was unavailable for comment.

The city is currently negotiating contracts with the police and street departments.


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