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Fire union head OK with Casady becoming public safety head

The head of Lincoln’s firefighters’ union says the group doesn’t have an opinion on the mayor’s decision to make the police chief the head of a public safety department, overseeing both the police and fire chiefs.

Dave Engler, president of the Lincoln Firefighters Association, which represents about 270 fire employees, said the union was never asked for input on creating a public safety head.

“We were told this is the way it’s going to be,” he said. “My boss will be the fire chief. That’s who we will still deal with.”

He said Police Chief Tom Casady is an intelligent guy.

“I’m not one to say that the sky’s falling because he has the ability to bring a lot to the table,” Engler said.

While the relationship between police officers and firefighters is traditionally tense, Engler said in Lincoln the two have a “professional working relationship” that’s not as strong as in some cities. In some cities, police fraternize with firefighters at the stations.

“We get along to some extent, I would say,” he said. “I don’t think it’s (their relationship) as strong as it is in some cities.”

On another fire issue, Engler said his union is close to a contract with the city. In Omaha, the mayor’s decision to proceed with a fire union agreement has come under fire because it would be approved before the new state law governing negotiations goes into effect. However, Engler said the new law wouldn’t have any effect on the agreement – which calls for no raises for firefighters next year, even though salary surveys indicate they are entitled to an increase.

Firefighters took heat earlier this year for getting 6 percent raises this year, plus longevity bonuses that pushed some raises past 10 percent. Engler said the union negotiated 0 percent raises the year prior, and some city officials expressed concern that if they didn’t take raises this year they would just fall farther behind on salaries and then have to catch up in coming years.

That conflicts with some city officials’ claims that if the city didn’t approve the 6 percent raise this year, the fire union would likely go to the state Commission of Industrial Relations and get an even bigger raise.

“This year we’re taking 0 percent because you’re never gonna win in this,” Engler said.

I give the firefighters props for that — and a demerit to the mayor’s office for portraying firefighters as willing to run to the CIR, when in reality they offered to take no raise at all this year.

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