EDITORIAL - Fire alarm: A shocking case points up the need for change

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Pittsburgh firefighter Vincent Manzella hasn't been convicted of a crime yet, but he has already admitted to investigators that he phoned in several false alarms to make it easier to burglarize empty fire stations to support his heroin habit.

It appears that Mr. Manzella has endangered fellow firefighters and the public. He has been charged with theft, burglary and calling in false alarms. That betrayal of trust ought to be the main focus of everyone.

But the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1 seems more concerned about the Ravenstahl administration imposing drug testing that falls outside the specific language of the contract. The union wants to negotiate an understanding.

While not technically opposed to the 30-day suspension Mr. Manzella received, the union argues that he is being convicted in the court of public opinion before the trial board, composed of three firefighters, has heard the evidence. And that raises a different issue.

Under current state law, only the trial board can terminate a firefighter, a law the union supports. The city counters that it is ridiculous to leave the disciplining of firefighters to their colleagues.

The city is asking the General Assembly to rewrite the 70-year-old state law governing discipline of Pittsburgh firefighters so that the city has more discretion to fire under these circumstances. The union prefers the status quo. Common sense suggests that a change is needed.


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