José Tirado, president of the Puerto Rico Firefighters Union. (semisquare-x3)
José Tirado, president of the Puerto Rico Firefighters Union. (Neidy Rosado)

The government will try to identify a budget item to retain the 45 firefighters who may be out of work in December.

To that effect, Christian Sobrino, government representative before the Board, warned that, if necessary, that payroll would be paid with the surplus identified by the Board in the Fiscal Plan.

Federal funds that subsidized the salary of 50 firefighters -45 remain- expired last October 31 so, since Thursday, it is the government´s responsibility to keep them on the payroll. 

But the government argued not to have budget to retain them while the Board reiterated yesterday – in a meeting with the Firefighters Union (SBU, Spanish acronym) –, that, in order to allocate more funds to the Fire Department, the government has to reduce other budget items.

"It is unfortunate that the Board´s staff tries to wash their hands off this matter, as (they did) with the Police, considering that the budget is the one prepared and certified by the Board," Sobrino reacted.

"We will try to find (the funds) in the current budget, but, if it is not achieved, we will not put the government operation or people´s safety at risk, so there will be no other option but to allocate funds from the surplus that the Board itself has identified," he added.

As Governor Ricardo Rosselló did in the last few days, Sobrino referred to a $ 17 billion surplus mentioned in the Fiscal Plan certified by the Board.

According to the Board these funds will be used to pay to government creditors, while Sobrino maintains that "these are the funds left after paying the debt."

When asked if the government can allocate funds from that surplus, Sobrino said that "there is no justification to say otherwise when the Board, in its own fiscal plan, states that there are funds to pay the contracted debt and, with everything, there is a surplus."

"To say that you cannot look at that money is not only unjustifiable, from a legal point of view but for public safety," he added. "I do not think the Board will want to create a safety situation with the people."

"It is urgent... the solution that has been identified finishes in December, but before that date we will reach a solution," he said.

These 45 firefighters will keep their job until December 15, after the government managed to "reprogram" $ 173,000 that had not been used.

The Fire Department would need $ 1.5 million to retain those firefighters for the rest of the fiscal year. They work in Barrio Obrero stations in San Juan, Cataño, Guaynabo, Bayamón, Río Piedras and Carolina.

"They (the Board) are looking for the funds to pay bondholders and do not want to lose a penny of the cuts made in the Fiscal Plan," said José Tirado, president of the Puerto Rico Firefighters Union, after yesterday's meeting.

"They (the Board) are waiting for a communication from the governor saying where the funds to retain our 45 firefighters will come from," said Tirado.

Héctor Pesquera, Secretary of Public Safety, said in written statements that "there has not yet been a response from the Board regarding the proposals and the request sent to meet the needs of the departments."

Meanwhile, the Board indicated in writing that they are "willing to work with the DSP to ensure that firefighters have adequate funds to fulfil their task" and that "the government has the ability to reallocate funds from other items to meet its priorities."

Contrary to Pesquera´s statements, the Board assured that they are the ones who are waiting for the communication, because the government "submitted the request (on those positions) but not the source of the funds to be reallocated."

The Union assured that they will not remain idle.

"If this is not resolved this month, we are going to start a series of activities in Hato Rey," said Tirado. "And I think that it would be better to identify the funds, because if we start picketing, the government is going to have to spend more money in safety, move police officers and all the safety structure."

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