Wells warns D.C. firefighters against Inauguration Day sickout

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A top District lawmaker on Monday warned the city's firefighters not to stage a sickout protest on Inauguration Day, though the employees' union said its members will report to work as scheduled.

"It would be a discredit, not just to the city but to firefighters everywhere," said Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells of a possible sickout. "It cannot happen."

Wells, who chairs the council committee that oversees firefighting services, would not elaborate on the possible ramifications that firefighters would face if they carried out such a protest, but he said any kind of Inauguration Day sickout would "absolutely" prompt a response.

Wells' comments came just weeks after city officials said nearly 100 firefighters called in sick on New Year's Eve. The firefighters union denied there was any coordinated protest, but District officials were furious with the absences, which left the city short-staffed and forced authorities to summon help from Prince George's County.

Ed Smith, president of the firefighters union, told The Washington Examiner that his members would not protest on the day up to 800,000 people are expected to pack the National Mall.

"Business as usual," said Smith, who added that it was "absurd to even think" the firefighters would seek to thwart the District's plans for emergency services.

Smith said no firefighters would be allowed to call in sick without providing documentation of their illness, a departure from the department's normal protocol.

"Members can still take sick leave, but they have to report to the police and fire clinic and be seen by a physician," Smith said.

The New Year's Eve sickout was the culmination of a tumultuous 2012 between the firefighters and top city officials. The two sides sparred over shift scheduling, equipment, uniforms and firefighters' conduct at Mayor Vincent Gray's annual address. During that February speech, most firefighters remained in their seats when the audience rose to applaud.

Smith acknowledged that the New Year's Eve episode had further strained the relationship between rank-and-file employees and the department's management.

"I would view it as a setback," said Smith, who has attributed the holiday staffing shortages to poor planning by the city.

City officials and the union couldn't even agree on how many firefighters had missed work. The District said it was 97, but the union said there were fewer than 90.

The Gray administration did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Kristopher Baumann, the leader of the city's police union, said his members had no plans to protest on Inauguration Day, even though they have repeatedly tussled with the District.

"We don't ever, ever sick out," Baumann said. "We work for the public."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner