AUXILIARY fire officers say they are treated worse than slaves, as they are working without vacation, sick, injury or any leave, even as full-time workers and when they retire they are not entitled to pensions.
Newsday spoke with a few of the 280 affected officers, who said they are tired of the proverbial carrot on a stick as they continue doing the same work as fire officers with none of the benefits. They said this has been ongoing for decades and workers are pacified with promises of being absorbed into the service or allowed the opportunity to train and become regular fire officers.
When asked why they have endured such treatment for so long, the officers said fear that they would not become fire officers due to vindictiveness had crippled their predecessors. They, however, intend to fight for all their benefits.
President of the Fire Service Association Leo Ramkissoon, in a phone interview said the association fully supports the officers’s claims that they are bottom of the barrel in the fire service hierarchy.
Ramkissoon, like the auxiliary officers, is calling on acting Chief Fire Officer Marlon Smith to adhere to the Chief Personnel Officer Commander Darryl Dindial’s request to include the auxiliary officers when paying out allowances.
In a letter to Smith dated March 16, Dindial reminded Smith of a 1996 and 1998 memorandum that allowed for all auxiliary fire officers who are on “call-out” to receive the full entitlement of regular fire officers.
Some auxiliary officers work two days a week, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, for three to four hours a day, while others work “full time.” When working on a call-out, the officers all work a 42-hour work week.
The firemen say sick days are deducted from their salaries and they have no paid vacation. If they accumulate compensatory leave, which is dependent on their bosses granting it, as that is not an entitlement, they are allowed a few days of rest without the risk of a decreased bank account.
Ramkissoon said, “The difficulty with auxiliary officers is that they are not entitled to any of the benefits unless they are working on a call-out, but the working conditions under which they operate as a full-time officer is the same as on a call-out, so that is just semantics.”
He added that he has been championing the cause for years, but with little to no change. He said as long as the officers are paid monthly, according to his interpretation of the regulations, they are deserving of all the entitlements of a regular fire officer. Smith, when contacted on the issue, said he was awaiting final approval before implementing the benefits as part of his due diligence.
“I have to make sure that they are getting all their benefits, nothing more and nothing less,” he said, as he agreed with Ramkissoon that once the officers work continuously (monthly paid) they are entitled to all the benefits, including pension.
An officer told Newsday, “I went to get my uniform recently and the officer told me that is for the recently passed-out trainees. I have to be out there doing all the work of a fire officer without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and if I get injured without it, I have nothing to get.”
“We are worse than the bastard child,” another chimed in, adding that he no longer attends passing-out parades, as he has seen his fellow auxiliary officers repeatedly bypassed for training, and those who were trained not absorbed.
“You know, the whole Fire Service Band is auxiliaries. One man tell me he not playing for passing out again. He fed up cry, knowing he do everything he could and they not taking him because he is auxiliary. We getting treated worse than the worst dog,” said another.