State Labor Board Affirms Town of Scituate Had Obligation to Bargain Before Reducing Engine Staffing to One Fire Fighter

March 28, 2022

In a case involving the Town of Scituate, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board has affirmed that public employers must bargain about the decisions involving the safety of fire fighters. It is the first such ruling by the CERB in decades. Attorney Patrick Bryant represented the Scituate fire local during the hearing.

Normally, a public employer has no obligation to bargain about the number of fire fighters assigned to a shift and waiting at the station for a call. However, the CERB has long held that the number of fire fighters assigned to an engine in response to a fire call can be what is known as a mandatory subject of bargaining. A mandatory subject is one that an employer must give the Union notice and an opportunity to bargain prior to implementing a change. Here, the Town reduced the staffing on Engine 1 to a single officer, an indisputably unsafe staffing.

Decades ago, the CERB had suggested that delays in responding to fire alarms as a result of reduced staffing did not establish safety concerns. That dicta has little sway in the face of modern fire science. This case was among the first to use expert testimony, studies of the U.S. Fire Administration and guidance of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes. Collectively, they made it clear that how reductions in staffing and increased response times create hazards.

The CERB ordered the Town to restore the previous staffing arrangement unless and until the Town completes bargaining obligations..

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