Lost in translation
Bilingual firefighter issue not yet settled
The Dunkirk Common Council will revisit a walk-in resolution for a bilingual firefighter Tuesday. The first time around, some councilmember felt there needed to be more discussion.
Third Ward Councilman Adelino Gonzalez first brought up the issue two months ago after an incident in which a Spanish-speaking resident was pinned by a tree and unable to effectively communicate with first responders.
The matter was discussed more at a personnel committee meeting last month with several options posed as solutions.
At the recent Common Council meeting, a resolution creating the position of a Spanish-speaking firefighter was walked in.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala said she was surprised by the resolution and had not had time to discuss it with Fire Chief Mike Edwards, the mayor or other councilmembers before the meeting.
“Something this important shouldn’t be walked in as a last-minute resolution. Not one of us had a heads up on this to be able to discuss it amongst ourselves, to meet with the chief, to meet with the mayor, to give suggestions. I think it’s just rotten,” she said at the workshop.
Gonzalez disputed the claim it is rotten. Councilman-at-Large Andy Woloszyn clarified Szukala was referring to the timing, not the matter itself.
In a bid to have more time for discussion, Szukala moved to table resolution 48 of 2017 during the meeting.
“This is a subject that I believe should have had more meetings in place, we should have met as a group with one of the committees in place. So, I would suggest we meet. I will have my public safety meeting prior to the next council meeting, we’ll have it on the agenda and we’ll have the chief there, the mayor there, hopefully all the members can make it so we can discuss this.
“What I would like to see happen is for the people who sponsored this resolution to meet with the chief on their own time and he can give you the ins and outs of about creating the position and/or changing civil service so it’s Spanish speaking, but it also needs to be English speaking, so this officer or this firefighter can still communicate with the rest of the department, which is very important. But to be able to walk in a resolution as important as this I think is wrong,” she said.
The rest of the council voted with her in tabling the resolution until the June 20 meeting.
After the meeting Gonzalez said he doesn’t plan to let the issue die.
“This is something we’ve discussed for a while. I applied to the attorney’s office to do the resolution, he did not get it done in time, which is why it was walked in. The need is there and in light of different situations have happened in the city with a fire or with the emergency squad and the request is for a Spanish-bilingual speaking person. He still has to meet the requirements of civil service, the only stipulation is that he speak Spanish and English. We discussed this at a committee meeting and this is nothing different than the school district requesting a bilingual teacher to teach the students of our city. I gave her the opportunity to table so that we can speak with the fire chief and that’s fine, it’s something we want to bring back up on the 20th,” he said.
First Ward Councilman Don Williams Jr. also expressed his support for the resolution going forward.
“For a little bit over a year we’ve been asking about hiring diversity within the fire and police departments and this is one step that we’re going to take at the next meeting to move forward with that,” he added.