Watertown firefighters union files grievance over clearing snow from hydrants

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 5:27 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - After Watertown firefighters were told to help shovel out snow from fire hydrants, the firefighters’ union filed a grievance against the city.

The firefighters say their contract with the city, or collective bargaining agreement, was violated when the chief ordered them to clear snow from fire hydrants on Thanksgiving, a holiday.

It was days after a major storm dumped feet of snow on the city.

“I wouldn’t want to issue an order having someone wax the floor on Thanksgiving morning. Something like clearing hydrants or maintaining equipment - those are mission critical and those do need to happen even on a holiday,” said Watertown Fire Chief Matt Timerman.

Normally on holidays, firefighters have minimal responsibility to do station maintenance.

Mayor Jeff Smith strongly disagrees with the grievance.

“I mean, I guess when I go to work when it’s a holiday and somebody needs surgery, you don’t say it’s a holiday we’re not operating today. But I don’t know,” he said.

The firefighters’ union argues clearing the snow wasn’t “mission critical” and the responsibility should have fallen on the city’s water department.

“The work was performed. There was no sense of urgency from the other departments that are typically in charge of the hydrant system,” said

Dan Daugherty, president of the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191.

The grievance’s demands one additional holiday to make up for Thanksgiving. It has already been shot down by the chief and city manager so it’ll go to arbitration.

“I’m surprised that this has gone to this point where we have an arbitrator signed and we have to go to arbitration. Now the city is going to have to spend money on litigation,” said Daugherty.

Timerman says he’d like to see an alteration made to the collective bargaining agreement that would allow these so-called mission critical actions, like clearing fire hydrants, to be ordered on holidays.