The city of Pittsburgh and the borough of Wilkinsburg have reached a deal to dissolve the Wilkinsburg fire department and for the city to begin providing fire service to borough residents. The 20-year deal comes with a renewal every 5 years.
Wilkinsburg Mayor John Thompson says the deal will save the borough more than $600,000 a year and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says it will not increase the city’s budget. Wilkinsburg will pay Pittsburgh just more than $7.5 million over the next 5 years to cover the additional costs. The borough will also be making a one-time payment into the city’s pension fund.
Wilkinsburg Firefighters Union President Brian Travato says he was facing two options. “We could continue to fight to maintain an already unsafe level of staffing that we have had here in Wilkinsburg, or we could seize the opportunity to be part of something special,” says Travato. Travato says he was looking out for his members during the negotiations but he always kept the safety of the residents as a top priority. “We are pleased to say you are going to be in very good hands with the fire protection that is going to be provided by the city of Pittsburgh.”
One Wilkinsburg fire station will be closed but Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh officials say response time will be reduced for residents on both sides of the border. They also were quick to point out that under the new system, more fire fighters will respond to each fire in Wilkinsburg.
Union and elected leader says this is the first merger of its kind in the state and they expect it to be held up as a model for others considering consolidation. Pittsburgh Fire Fighter Union President Joe King says he has been asked by the national union to present information about how the deal was done.
All of the Wilkinsburg fire fighters who wanted to become Pittsburgh firefighters were taken on at the pay rate equal to a second year firefighter. For some that will mean a cut in pay but others will see an increase. Wilkinsburg firefighters will be given just more than a year service time in the Pittsburgh system for every year served in Wilkinsburg. Firefighters will have one year to move into the city.
The deal must still be approved by the Pittsburgh City Council.