Estero, Florida, hires back its firefighters
In January 1997, the Estero (FL) Fire Board voted 3-0 (two members did not vote) to hire a private company (Wackenhut) to provide fire services. All 11 firefighters in the department were dismissed. On August 15, 1997, the Fire Commission replaced Wackenhut`s firefighters with six of the department firefighters who had been fired. (The other five had found other employment and resigned.) It`s anticipated that three additional firefighters will be hired by the end of the year and three more the beginning of next year so that the department can return to a four-person shift, according to Lieutenant Paul Rey-nolds.
The initial firing action of the Fire Board had set off a series of events that included the following:
Charges that Fire Board officials had violated the state`s Sunshine Law. The charges were upheld in the courts and ultimately led to the jury conviction of one board member, plea-bargaining negotiations for three others, and the suspension of four Fire Board members by Governor Lawton Chiles.
Picketing by IAFF Firefighters Local 1826 on private property next to one of the fire stations.
The arrest of a Fire District administrative assistant and the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Fire Chief Jimmie Wright (who was in favor of replacing the department`s firefighters with those from a private company). The two reportedly had stolen about $600 worth of picket signs from the local firefighters union. The Fire Board suspended the chief with pay on August 9.
A recommendation by the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) that the dismissed firefighters be given their jobs back because the district failed to allow the fire union to give a counteroffer to the private contractor`s proposal. The City of Estero had appealed the ruling, but it was subsequently upheld.
At present, the department does not have a chief. Administrative and training duties are being handled by a neighboring department under contract with the City of Estero.
Negotiations are still underway with regard to how much back pay the rehired firefighters will receive and the manner in which it will be paid.
References: “Local 3080, News from Estero (http://aiafflocal3080. org/p26.htm) Oct. 23, 1997; “Estero Fire District: A Chronology, r1997, Naples Daily News, (http://www.naplesnews.com/today/bonita/time0811.htm), Oct. 23, 1997; phone interview with Lieutenant Paul Reynolds, Estero Fire District, October 24, 1997.