Judge Halts Demotion of 14 Recently Promoted Fire Officers

A Pennsylvania judge has halted the demotion of more than a dozen recently promoted Philadelphia Fire Department lieutenants and captains pending a court decision.

Five captains and nine fire lieutenants were set to lose their titles on Wednesday after being promoted over the summer following a legal fight with the City of Philadelphia, according to the firefighters union.

However, Court of Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler issued an order Tuesday evening putting a stop to the demotions until Judge Leon Tucker, who oversaw the first legal decision, reviews the case.

The officers were given their new positions after the International Association of Firefighters and Paramedics Local 22 sued the city for stalling on a set of promotions. The union won the court case and the department promoted the officers based off of a pre-assigned promotions list.

However, the city appealed the decision, arguing that the fire commissioner should be allowed to make promotions at his discretion. An appellate court agreed and reversed the ruling on September 18.

During the appeal, the fire department administered a new round of promotion tests for the lieutenant and captain positions. Since the 14 officers had already been promoted, the union says, the department excluded them from consideration.

"It’s just not fair," said Local 22 rep Edward Marks. "There was a test that was given in early June and a new list has been posted from the lieutenant and captain’s test. And the fellas that are being demoted tomorrow weren’t eligible."

City officials dispute that claim. Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter's press secretary, says a number of the officers took the new test -- some didn't finish and others either failed or scored poorly.

McDonald says the personnel changes are being made to select the "best and brightest" for the captain and lieutenant positions.

The department is now using that new list of candidates to fill those 14 positions.

City officials said they told the union and those being promoted to be prepared to lose their jobs should the ruling be overturned.

"They had the right to take the test, they understood that this was all conditional from the beginning, so whatever they decided to do was up to their individual decision and the council, probably, that they received from their union," Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said.

Union president Joe Schulle said his members were lied to and told there would not be demotions.

"I will tell you that the commissioner lied and our human resources director lied and anybody else involved in the process that told our members that they were not going to be demoted, that this would be in bad taste. That this is not likely to happen," he said.

The union says the department has since changed the testing requirements for the officer positions and those who may be demoted would have to wait a year to apply for the jobs once again.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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