By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Nutter Administration plans to transfer nearly 300 senior firefighters to different stations next year, a move that the firefighters union describes as “punishment.”

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The transfers, to take effect this coming January, are the first under a new annual policy announced within the department last week by Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.  A copy of Ayers’ internal memo to the rank-and-file was obtained by KYW Newsradio.

According to the memo, the policy “will ensure that all FF’s have equal opportunity to work in various assignments and acquire diverse skills.”  The memo states that 293 senior firefighters will be affected in 2013, and 156 of them have more than ten years tenure.

Click here to read the memo from Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

A spokesman for the mayor, Mark McDonald, defended the policy in an interview with KYW Newsradio.  He said rotating senior firefighters would ensure that they are exposed to a greater number of locations.

“The purpose quite simply is to increase the basic skills that firefighters have out in the field, by providing them an opportunity to be in different sections of the city.  What this rotational policy does is provide opportunities for all firefighters to develop their abilities to the fullest.”

But Bill Gault, president of the Firefighters Local 22, blasted the policy as, “devastating to the firemen, devastating to the fire department.”

Gault said the current practice of allowing senior firefighters to stay in one location for many years improves the quality of fire responses, since they have a better knowledge of that community.

“They know everything about the neighborhood — where the fire hydrants are, the best way to get in and out, who lives there, what kind of fire load it has, what kind of occupancy it has.  In our job you have to know all these things.  I have one guy who’s been at the same station at 26th and York for 39 years.  They’re taking him out of his spot.  He’s like a rock in that firehouse.”

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And the union leader said this new rotation policy is the latest example of what he describes as “harassment” by the Nutter Administration.

“It’s so hard with this administration anymore.  They don’t want to talk; they don’t want to sit down.  All they want to do is just keep heaping discipline and punishment on us.”

McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman, rejected Gault’s criticism.

“That is a singularly absurd claim by the fire union leadership.”

McDonald points out that under the new policy, the senior firefighters who are due to be transferred can stipulate five preferred locations, and that one of those locations can be their current station.

And McDonald says the administration believes newer hires prefer more frequent transfers.

“They want these opportunities.  And this kind of system creates an institutional setting where they’re going to have opportunities to work in different parts of the city.”

Gault, for his part, wants to try to stop the new policy from going forward, though he admits that since transfers are a managerial prerogative, the union’s options are limited.

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“Try to work it out with them (or) take it to court – it’s all we can do.”