The Boston Fire Department has long been a power unto itself. Despite several studies detailing the need to reform and modernize the department, the tradition-bound institution has stubbornly resisted big change. Some problems spring from the fact that the entire uniformed command staff, save for the chief of department, belongs to Boston Firefighters Local 718, the same union that represents the rank-and-file. Another problem: The union knows that if the firefighters hold out long enough in contract negotiations, the outstanding issues will be decided by binding arbitration, a process that often leans toward labor.
Last week, I asked most of the mayoral hopefuls three questions about the department. 1) Would they appoint an independent commission, or hire a consulting firm, to do a comprehensive review of the department, from staffing levels to stations to salaries and benefits? 2) Do they think having the uniformed command staff and rank-and-file firefighters in the same union makes sense? 3) Would they try to reform the current binding arbitration process?