The Richmond Register

Local News

July 6, 2013

Army depot to furlough firefighters despite safety concerns

County fire chief, Congressman say community could be at risk

RICHMOND — Blue Grass Army Depot firefighters

are scheduled to begin furloughs Monday despite clear instruction from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that such personnel should be exempt to the "extent necessary" to protect life and property.

Hagel issued a memo to the armed forces in May that provided a list of personnel exempt from furloughs. On that list was “employees necessary to protect safety of life and property.”

The fire department at the depot, which houses 500 tons of chemical weapons and regularly detonates and disposes of conventional munitions, already was undermanned, depot sources say.

“I want the community to know because of this, their safety is at risk,” one of the sources said. “... (the community) will be losing their first response for chemical leaks and spills.”

The Register has agreed to not name those who came forward with information about staffing levels because they fear retaliation.

Furloughs that require most federal employees to reduce their hours by 20 percent are being ordered to comply with the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Most depot employees work four 10-hour shifts a week, according to depot officials.

However, firefighters work 24-hour shifts and regularly get overtime, so planning furlough time off is more complicated, according to sources connected to the department.

The Bluegrass Army Depot typically has seven firefighters per shift, four to operate the fire engine and two to drive the ambulance. This is below the 13 firefighters per shift recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, a safety standard which the federal government is supposed to follow as mandated by Department of Defense policies and federal law.

According to documentation provided to the Register, legal opinions sought by the International Association of Fire Fighters support the union’s assertion that budget sequestration requirements do not supplant the NFPA guidelines and DoD policies. Not following those guidelines may constitute a violation of federal Occupational Safety and and Health Administration standards.

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