Mike Bresnan has served on the board of International Association of Fire Fighters and Paramedics Local 22 for 12 years, when there have been five presidents: Brian McBride, Bill Gault, Joe Schulle, Andy Thomas and Ed Marks.
“It’s been a revolving door,” he said.
Marks, a fire department retiree, didn’t run for another term, and Bresnan – the first vice president – joined the race to replace him. The bylaws changed, giving the new president a three-year term instead of two.
Bresnan, a Torresdale resident, ran on a 10-man ticket that included five active firefighters and a theme of “Experience Matters.” He defeated treasurer Dan Oakes with 63 percent of the vote, and eight members of the ticket won.
“We’re blue-collar members of the department. We see the day-to-day stuff,” he said. “The ticket had 50 years on the board. That went over well with membership. We’ve got an extra year, and maybe we’ll get more things done.”
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel swore in the new board on June 3, though the transition continues. The new term does not start until July 1.
“We’ll hit the ground running,” said vice president Chuck McQuilkin, a South Philadelphia resident who works at Engine 24 in Point Breeze..
Bresnan is a battalion chief who works at Battalion 13, Frankford and Linden avenues. He’ll be taking a leave of absence to assume duties as president.
The Local 22 office is at 5th and Willow streets in the Northern Liberties area. The office was recently renovated, with some office space now occupying what used to be a large lounge/banquet hall. The new space is no longer big enough for banquets or wedding receptions, and the bar isn’t open to the public anymore. It can accommodate small private parties and training events.
Bresnan is joined by three administrative employees and three health care staffers, and longtime administrative assistant Karen Boyle will likely return, at least for a short period of time. McQuilkin handles office operations.
In all, there are more than 5,000 members, including about 3,000 active firefighters and paramedics.
A class of 62 firefighters and paramedics graduated three weeks ago, and a class of 130 is at the fire academy now. Another class of 100 will begin in September.
The city is hiring firefighters to replace ones who retire or are out with injury or illness. The application deadline is July 26, with the test likely in October. More information is available by calling 215-686-0880 or phila.gov/fire.
By holding two classes per year, the city can assure itself of having enough active firefighters and paramedics to cut down on overtime.
Of course, a fully staffed department will stop the practice of understaffed medics crisscrossing the city to get to a call and should make residents safer from fires, especially those who live in high-rise housing.
“You can’t gamble when somebody’s house is on fire at 3 in the morning,” Bresnan said. “You need a company to get there within four minutes. That’s what people pay taxes for.”
Local 22 did not have a good relationship with Mayor Michael Nutter, but works better with Mayor Jim Kenney. Thiel is the first non-Philadelphian to head the fire department.
“The goal throughout this term is to work together,” McQuilkin said.
McQuilkin and new sergeant at arms Eddie Mulholland, a Somerton resident who works at Ladder 10 at Kensington and Castor avenues, work with elected officials to make sure they are on board with Local 22 issues.
The union has endorsed Kenney’s re-election, and has embraced out-of-towner Thiel after battling with commissioners appointed by the last several mayors.
“Finally, our members have a good trifecta,” Mulholland said, referring to Kenney, Thiel and the union board.
Others with Local 22 backing include City Councilmen Bobby Henon and Al Taubenberger and Council candidate Dan Tinney. The union has not yet made a choice in the 10th Councilmanic District.
As for the union’s existing contract, it expires on June 30, 2020, and Local 22 will start the process of getting a new contract in September. The board wants to get a contract on time and, if decided by arbitration, one that will not be appealed, as Nutter did.
“We’re going to get input from membership,” McQuilkin said.
The top issues are expected to be, as usual, health care, pension and salary.
“We have to represent our members,” Mulholland said.
Local 22 represents its members in many ways, including in grievances and for those with cancer.
“It’s not your average profession,” Bresnan said.
Mulholland cited a study showing that firefighters are diagnosed with cancer 62 percent more than the general public. There are cases of firefighters who’ve never smoked getting lung cancer.
While the union works well with the city, there are potential wedges.
Local 22 wants the city to buy more high-powered machines to wash the protective gear worn to fight fires to remove toxins.
Also, city risk management office lawyers, using their interpretation of the state cancer presumption law, have been denying claims by firefighters who say their cancer is job related
Firefighters undergoing chemotherapy cannot work, and the time off the job can risk their benefits if their vacation and sick time expire. Local 22 wants its members with cancer to be placed on workers’ compensation.
“It’s occupational cancer,” McQuilkin said.
“This is someone’s life,” Mulholland said. ••