Austin Firefighting Problems Still Smolder

AUSTIN (CN) - Litigation over Austin's fire department continues to mount, as its firefighters claim in court that the city is illegally hiring fire departments outside of the city to provide first response in outlying areas.
     The Austin Firefighters Association sued the city in Travis County Court on Tuesday, the day after the city settled a discriminatory hiring lawsuit with the federal government.
     In the new lawsuit, the firefighters claim that under the state's Fire Fighter and Police Officer Civil Service Act, the city is required to provide fire services through its own civil service fire department.
     "Defendant city has entered into contractual agreements with several ESDs [Emergency Service Districts] and municipalities under which their fire departments provide first-responder fire protection to Austin citizens residing in outlying areas of the city," the complaint states. "Under these agreements, in addition to providing primary response to incidents within the Austin city limits, non-city of Austin fire fighters supervise and direct the work of civil service members of the Austin Fire Department."
     The firefighters claim the city's contracts go beyond the "mutual aid agreements" that allow supplemental fire crews in extreme situations.
     "In contract, the city's agreements with the ESDs and municipalities contract out normal fire protection service within the Austin city limits, providing for ESD personal to be dispatches as part of the city's initial or primary response, and sometimes the only response rather than using its own civil service department ... the personal providing first-response fire protection do the same work as plaintiff association's members, and do work that otherwise would be required to be performed by plaintiff association's members," the complaint states.
     Austin officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
     The firefighters seek a declaration that the city is violating the Civil Service Act, and an injunction requiring the use of its members. It is represented by B. Craig Deats with Deats Durst in Austin.
     The suit comes one day after the city settled claims by the Department of Justice that the city's exams for entry-level firefighters discriminate against black and Hispanic applicants. Although the city admitted no fault, it agreed to pay $780,000 in back pay and create new exams that are not discriminatory.