By Seth Daniel
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Chief Leonard Albanese hotly disputed claims made by the Chelsea Firefighters Union last week that the City was unwilling to fund kevlar helmets to protect them in an active shooter situation, indicating that the Union would not have even had the ballistic vests that came in handy during the May 22 active shooter situation on Warren Avenue if they had done things their way.
Both contended they did not make comments indicating that the helmets couldn’t be funded because they would likely never be used, but instead fought back the Union’s attempts to not put ballistic vests into service on May 5, as they wanted to get collective bargain a pay raise first.
Had he and the chief not been insistent with the union, Ambrosino said the vests would have been hanging unused in the Station on May 22 when a man shot at police and firefighters on Warren Avenue.
“We did not use those words, never did,” he said on Monday. “The union did not want to deploy the vests until they had all the equipment at once (vests, goggles and kevlar helmets). The Chief’s position was that it’s better to have some protection than not to have any protection right now. We told them we wanted to deploy the vests and then we would deploy the helmets as soon as the budget is passed in July…So, we deployed the vests on May 5. If the union had its way, they wouldn’t have had vests on Warren Avenue that night. The vests would have been sitting in the station. As the chief says, that wouldn’t have been a help to anyone.”
Albanese took great exception to reports in the Boston media and in the Record based on complaints by the Union and its president, Anthony Salvucci, last week in the wake of the incident on Warren Avenue. The Union contended that it wasn’t safe to deploy things piecemeal and that they had been told the helmets would likely never be used. Salvucci suggested that the helmets be made available immediately using Free Cash, rather than after the budget is passed in July.
Albanese said he has made the department into a leader on active shooter training and equipment since coming to the City in 2016.
He said there was really no plan in place at the time, and he quickly made it a priority to get the training and equipment for the department. That priority list included following a funding plan for the safety equipment.
The vests came through a grant to the police and fire departments, with training on the vests coming in April and the vests ready for deployment in early May.
However, he said those vests were nearly put on hold by the Union due to the desire to collectively bargain a pay raise for having members use them.
“On May 4, 2017, I received an email communication from President Salvucci requesting that these bullet proof vests not be placed on the apparatus on May 5 until the union has a chance to Impact Bargain this change,” read a letter from the chief to the City Council. “Secondly, he requested that the Local receive and increase in their Hazardous Duty Pay for providing this service. Because this policy has been in effect since September 2016, and by our mission and duty as firefighters, I could not in good conscience delay the issuance of this equipment that would undoubtedly protect our firefighters should the need arise…Had I granted President Salvucci’s request, these ballistic vests would have been on the floor in my office last Monday, instead of on the bodies of our firefighters.”
Albanese said it is not a funding issue, but one of timing.
“This is not a funding issue,” he wrote. “It is a timing issue. We cannot solve every problem we face at once. The department has set a plan in place and we are following it successfully. We are researching and consulting to make sure we get the right equipment. At the same time we are addressing training needs for the various other threats we face as an All Hazards Fire Department.”
He said he is confident that the Chelsea Fire Department is a leader in responding to such an incident – and in fact they were the first department to use the training that has them protected by a SWAT team when extinguishing a major fire in an active shooter situation.
“It is undeniable that our department was ready to face the challenge of Warren Avenue,” he wrote.
Ambrosino said the helmets are in the Chief’s proposed budget, and will be ordered if the Council approves that budget this month.