By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council members today grilled fire commissioner Lloyd Ayers over his plan to transfer hundreds of senior firefighters to different stations against their wishes.

Firefighters opposed to the plan packed Council chambers today as councilmembers Jim Kenney, Bobby Henon, and Mark Squilla questioned Commissioner Ayers firsthand about the transfer policy.

Ayers said the transfers will improve public safety — a point that Kenney disputed.

(Kenney:)  “How does the forced movement of 300 firefighters help that?”

(Ayers:)  “It helps it because, along with this move, there’s going to be changes in how we fight fires (such as) community risk reductions programs, where firefighters help assess what’s going on in that community.”

(Kenney:)  “Doesn’t the longer you’re there in that community make you more effective in that goal?”  (applause)

Councilman Henon asked Ayers if any other major cities have such forced transfers.

(Henon:)  “This transfer policy — is it being used as best practices in any other fire departments throughout the United States?  Because I have a list here of over 15 in which it’s not.”

(Ayers:)  “It is the best practice under our circumstances, in our city.”

Under the new policy, 293 senior firefighters will be moved in January, and 156 of them have more than ten years’ tenure.

Several councilmembers urged Ayers to delay the transfers.  Ayers later told KYW Newsradio that while he’s open to further discussions with Council, the transfers will not be put off.

“The implementation is not being delayed.  We’re going to sit down with them and we’re going to go over their concerns,” Ayers said.

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