EAST CLEVELAND - The mayor has ordered the city's firefighters to cut grass and trim shrubs while on duty to help the service department care for parks and other public areas.
"We have 54 firefighters, and they have a lot of downtime," Mayor Eric Brewer said Thursday. "Instead of sitting around the station, they'll be assisting us as we beautify the city."
The firefighters' union opposes the plan, arguing that noise from city lawnmowers and protective headphones worn by firefighters might prevent them from hearing their radios when an emergency call comes in.
"We're firefighters, not service workers," union vice president Rick Razek said. "It jeopardizes our citizens and will absolutely hinder our response time."
The mayor's plan calls for firefighters to travel in a fire truck to their assigned work site and to keep their firefighting gear with them so they can proceed directly to the scene of a fire if called.
The new duties are similar to other non-fire-related tasks performed by firefighters, such as checking hydrants, conducting fire inspections or visiting schools, said Ken Adams, deputy safety director of the Cleveland suburb.
A city law passed in 1944 authorizes the mayor to order special details for performing duties such as removing snow and ice from sidewalks and repairing buildings and equipment. The ordinance was enacted during a time when cities needed help with manual labor as many men served in the military overseas.
"This is simply an attempt to beef up a service that has been lacking for a number of years," Brewer said Thursday as he watched several firefighters receive training on a riding lawnmower.
"Actually, that looks like fun," he said. "I might get out there and cut some grass myself."
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