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Firefighters to get new radio system

YOUNGSTOWN — The city and its firefighters union agreed to settle a longstanding dispute over upgrading the department’s radio equipment.

The two sides resolved the issue, which was heading Tuesday to arbitration.

The firefighters union has complained for several months about the inadequacies of the radio system and the need to upgrade it.

The estimate for the upgrade is $285,000, but the final cost won’t be known until it’s time to install the equipment, said Kyle Miasek, the city’s interim finance director, who is setting aside that amount in the 2020 general fund budget for the project.

While in Columbus on Thursday for a mediation hearing to address the union’s objection to the city reducing the number of battalion chiefs through attrition from six to three, the two sides came to an agreement on the radio issue, said Charlie Smith, union president.

“The two issues are tied together and we came to an agreement on the radio system,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not happy it took them this long, but pleased it’s being fixed. It’s been a safety issue since they were put in service” about two years ago.

The existing digital system hasn’t worked properly, Smith said.

Modifications were made about six months ago to make it work better, but issues remain.

When asked if he believed upgrades are needed, fire Chief Barry Finley would only say: “The union says it is. The union says it’s needed.”

Smith said the system would be in place by September 2020.

But Finley and Miasek said they don’t have a timetable.

The first step to improving the radio system was taken two months ago when the city requested two radio frequencies from the Federal Communications Commission. At the time, Finley said it would take about six months for the FCC to approve the request.

After that, Staley Communications of Youngstown would install antennas and other equipment for the upgrade.

“I have no idea how long it will take,” Finley said of getting the work finished. Stanley “said they cannot start without the frequencies.”

The upgrades are “a priority so we’ll find the money” for it, Miasek said. “It’s needed and we weren’t prepared budgetwise for it this year.”

Finley and the firefighters union have been at odds for months over a variety of issues including the battalion chief reduction, the radio system, the Dec. 16 closing of the North Side fire station and the chief’s leadership style.

On Wednesday, the union voted 90-17 in favor of a no-confidence vote against Finley.

The no-confidence document reads: “Poor communication, absent plans, indecisiveness and even a threatening work environment have left (the union) in doubt of Finley’s competency as fire chief. Throughout his term, we have contended with budget mismanagement, a reduction in firefighters and fire trucks, training issues and a failure to adequately address safety concerns. Public safety and firefighter safety have been threatened in addition to overall mismanagement and lack of leadership.”

The union also filed a complaint Thursday with the law department on “work environment and other issues,” Smith said.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com