Oak Lawn and its fire department at impasse over staffing levels

For years, Oak Lawn's administration and its firefighters union have waged a bitter and expensive legal battle over minimum apparatus and shift staffing requirements.

The administration argues that the department can safely and effectively run with three on an engine and a total of 19 firefighters per shift. The union contends that four to an engine — as is stipulated in the parties' collective bargaining agreement — and 21 individuals on duty at all times — as a grievance arbitrator decided in 2008 — represent the minimum staffing necessary to keep firefighters and the community safe.

"We could have jump companies where, depending on the type of call, the people jump on the appropriate piece of apparatus," Sheets said. "That's what 99 percent of departments in the state and country do — they have jump companies and the flexibility of taking a piece of apparatus based on the call."

Griffin, however, argues that any reduction in staffing would have a detrimental effect on safety, and said he'd be doing a disservice to Oak Lawn residents and fellow firefighters if he conceded to any reductions.

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