Union targets Hibbing fire chief
Strife is brewing in the Hibbing Fire Department. Members of Interna-tional Association of Fire-fighters Local 173 went public over the weekend with a vote of no confidence in the head of their department, Chief Tony Pogorels. A statement issued ...
Strife is brewing in the Hibbing Fire Department.
Members of International Association of Firefighters Local 173 went public over the weekend with a vote of no confidence in the head of their department, Chief Tony Pogorels.
A statement issued by the union said: "Reasons for this vote include lack of leadership, inability to effectively communicate, failure to respond to firefighter concerns, fiscal decision-making priorities and lack of overall concern for the well-being of our members. Chief Pogorels has repeatedly micromanaged the day-to-day operations of his command staff and subordinates while failing to maintain a clear grasp of larger issues."
Pogorels said Sunday that he had not yet seen the no-confidence statement sent to Hibbing City Council members by the firefighters union Friday. But he observed that the complaints come in the midst of contract negotiations and an ongoing grievance.
"They want me out because these are tough times, and they can't get their way," said Pogorels, a 24-year veteran of the department who has served 6½ years as chief.
"I've got a real balancing act on my hands, with a $3.2 million annual budget and $357,000 in overtime," Pogorels said.
He explained that in the face of reduced local government aid payments from the state, Hibbing has had to tighten its belt, forcing the department to operate with smaller crews. Pogorels noted that Cloquet and Virginia have had to make similar adjustments.
Matt Ashmore, president of Local 173, representing 23 people, said Hibbing reduced its minimum staffing requirements from six to four firefighters on duty since December -- a decision the union has challenged and is taking to arbitration.
As a result of reduced staffing, the union reported that the Hibbing Fire Department has had to deny ambulance transfers, and residents have had to wait upwards of 10 minutes for ambulance response.
Pogorels said he has asked for documentation of delayed responses, but the union has not produced any to date. He also noted that the city has 18 paid on-call firefighters who can be paged out on an as-needed basis.
Ashmore said some of the fire department's equipment needs have been neglected under Pogorels' leadership, including pumps on engines, ventilators and IV access tools.
But Pogorels contends the department is quite adequately equipped, having recently acquired a new airpack system and ventilation gear. He said the department also receives a new ambulance every two years.
Ashmore said Pogorels and city administration have been unresponsive to the union's concerns and even cost-saving ideas.
"It's frustrating when you have the knowledge and know-how we have in our department, and everything you suggest keeps falling on deaf ears," he said. "It would be nice if we got listened to and had our concerns addressed."
The union's gripe isn't only with Pogorels, according to Ashmore.
"The core of the problem is how the city does business with its employees," he said.