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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Gov’t, firefighters differ on number of personnel in walkout

Public Safety Secretary Alexis Torres

By John McPhaul

Public Safety (DPS) Secretary Alexis Torres said on Thursday that 15% to 16% of firefighters have been absent from work as they persist in demanding better salary conditions, while the Firefighters Union places the number higher.

“Today we basically have 15% or 16% confirmed absences,” Torres said in response to questions from the press. “However, we continue with the communication and coordination with the different mayors.”

“I can give you an example; in the Ponce area we have three fire stations where one is closed, but the other two are going to be providing services to the municipality and especially to that area of that station that is closed,” he added.

Regarding the firefighters’ calls for a salary increase, the DPS chief said “we continue to look for alternatives and the way the Department of Public Safety works, we send and redirect resources, not only for the Firefighters Bureau, but for any of those bureaus to continue providing the service.”

“The service is guaranteed,” Torres stressed.

Puerto Rico Firefighters Union President José Tirado García said meanwhile that 20 fire stations were closed Thursday out of a total of 96, and a greater percentage of firefighters were absent.

“The outrage of these first responders translated into a spontaneous movement that resulted in not showing up at their work centers,” Tirado García said in a written statement.

He argued that historically, firefighters in Puerto Rico, who have a base salary of $1,500 a month, have been discriminated against, relegated to crumbs in terms of salary and decent working conditions. As an example, Tirado García highlighted how since the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, and later the earthquakes in the south, the central government has stood idly by in the rehabilitation and renovation of the island’s fire stations.

“It is shameful how in each meeting at Fortaleza they can give assurances that they are working, and then nothing is produced,” Tirado García said. “Since the beginning of last year we have been in talks: first they took away the $125 [pay raise] granted by law, and after a forceful demonstration by the firefighters, they returned it. What is being asked for is minimal justice.”

The union leader said the statements by the Public Safety secretary that only 15 percent of the firefighters were absent “are a clear manipulation of numbers, at which he is an expert.”

“The 900 firefighters that make up the force are divided into four work shifts, which represents approximately 275 firefighters per shift, distributed among 96 stations, and Torres is calculating as if the 900 firefighters were working at the same time,” Tirado García said.

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