West Valley police and firefighters say they are already so understaffed, they don't need to plan a "blue flu."
Firefighters and police officers are meeting Wednesday to discuss organizing job actions, ranging from volunteering to work for supportive City Council candidates to an organized "blue flu" sick-out or a strike.The threatened job action comes at a time when four council members are waging campaigns to return to their seats after the Nov. 7 election. Yet in the primary elections, public safety wasn't an issue raised by candidates.
Politicians say the threatened uprising comes as a surprise. "The only thing I know about it is what I saw on television," said West Valley Mayor Brent Anderson.
"We've always worked with our guys. I'll say it 100 times. Public safety to me is of the utmost importance. But at the same time we've got to respect the wishes of the people (not to raise taxes)."
Officer Jim Crowley said the department's morale is the lowest it has ever been since the city incorporated nine years ago, as police and fire officers risk their lives on the job every day.
"I think the major complaint right now is the overwork. The guys are stressed. They can't get a day off. And it makes for dangerous working conditions. Somebody's going to get hurt."
"It's getting real dangerous," said firefighter Jim Hill, president of the West Valley firefighters union. "We've had people talking about getting vests and things so we don't get our butts shot off."
Police Chief Dennis Nordfeldt said he supports his officers' complaints. "My morale is low. We've had a couple of incidents recently when we've had stabbings and no police officers to send."
The city's 100,000 residents are protected by an 85-member police force. Nordfeldt said a more professional staffing level would be about 1.25 officers per 1,000 residents, or a 120-member force.
Hill said West Valley City, the state's second largest city, has the lowest-staffed professional full-time fire department in the United States, compared to cities of similar size. And statistics say one of the city's three stations, Station 73, located at 2800 S. 2700 West, is the busiest in the state.