North Kingstown Firefighters and Town Council battle over shift hours

By Mike LaCrosse 

A ruling from the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board, on North Kingstown's firefighters' hours and wages, is being challenged by the Town Council. 

Monday, the council held an emergency meeting to discuss the ruling which was handed down by the state board late Friday afternoon. 

The ruling found the town improperly changed firefighters' shifts.  In March of 2012, the council changed the shifts from between 10-14 hours to 24 hours.  The ruling also found the town has to pay the firefighters back wages at an 12% interest rate within 60 days. 

“Our firefighters are working 48 hours, you know 72 hours straight.  They are being mandated to stay on excessive shifts,” said IAFF Local 1651 President Ray Furtado. 

Furtado says these long shifts are a safety concern. 

“To perform EMS functions at 2, 3 in the morning on the heels of a 24 hour shift, properly dose medications, thinking clearly, making rational medical decisions.  It's an incredibly difficult task,” said Furtado.

 The town is standing by their decision and says it save tax payers money. 

“We believe what we have done is legal under our charter with our rights and we strongly believe as a council that if we don't have the right to do what we did,” said Town Councilor Elizabeth Dolan. 

The 24 hour shifts will remain in place until the petitions are addressed in court.  No word when they'll be placed on the docket.