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City acting on full pay for police, firefighters called to military duty

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Pittsburgh police officers, firefighters and other city government employees called to military duty in the wake of last week's terrorist acts will continue to receive full pay and benefits during their service under an executive order by Mayor Tom Murphy and a bill introduced in City Council yesterday.

Murphy's policy, issued in a letter Friday to city department directors, will pay the difference between the city salary and the military pay -- which is usually less than civilian pay -- of any city employee called into action, and it will maintain health- care benefits for them and their families.

A similar measure was introduced to council by Councilman Jim Motznik, council's public safety chairman.

Motznik also introduced legislation creating a $50,000 trust fund to pay college tuition for the children of New York City personnel killed in the Sept. 11 incidents. After the fund is established, the city would ask other municipalities nationwide to contribute to it.

Debate on the plans is set for tomorrow.

President Bush last week approved an order authorizing the nation's service branches to call up to 50,000 reservists to active duty. The services, after analyzing their personnel needs, have said they may need to call up as many as 35,000 reservists -- 13,000 by the Air Force, 10,000 by the Army, 7,500 by the Marines, 3,000 by the Navy and 2,000 by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard, however, is the only one of the services to have begun activating reservists. Orders were issued over the weekend activating more than 1,500 Coast Guard reservists in the Atlantic area east of the Rocky Mountains and more than 400 others in the Pacific area, Coast Guard officials said yesterday.

Most of those Coast Guard reservists will help provide security for ports. Some already are working in port security units assigned to the harbors in New York City, Boston and Hampton, Va. Coast Guard officials could not say yesterday how many reservists from Western Pennsylvania have been activated or where they will be assigned.

But some will be from the Coast Guard's Pittsburgh-based Marine Safety office, which oversees traffic and safety on the Monongahela, Allegheny and a portion of the Ohio Rivers. City Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. is a petty officer second class with that unit and has been ordered to report for active duty today.

Spokesmen for the other service branches said they expect to begin calling up reservists soon but do not know when those orders will be issued.

There are 27 police officers and 41 firefighters in the reserves, according to Deputy Mayor Sal Sirabella. The administration was creating a fuller list of employees citywide last night.

Council approved proposals to extend extra pay to government employees called into military duty during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and U.S. intervention in the Balkans in 1999.

Members of the reserves, National Guard and other branches of the armed forces who are called into military service often are paid less than they earn as civilians. They also may be forced to use personal days or vacation days to cover time lost from work.

Federal law requires employers to hold jobs for military personnel for up to five years, and it does not address paying them while they're on duty. Murphy's policy ensures personnel will be restored to the same or similar jobs with like seniority, status and pay when they return from service.

Motznik said the supplemental pay should not hurt the city budget or affect city services. Only 11 city employees had to leave work to serve in the Gulf War, he said.

The 41 firefighters who are in the reserves represent nearly 5 percent of the city's 890 Fire Bureau members, but Acting Chief Arthur George said he didn't think all of the department's reservists would be called up for duty at the same time.

Even if that occurs, George said, some companies that operate with five-person crews could use fewer members to cover for the reservists. He said if that was not sufficient to cover for the firefighters, others would be called in on overtime.

With only 27 officers on the reservist list, city police have less of a concern, said McNeilly. Deputy Chief Charles Moffat will take over for McNeilly.

"That's only 2.5 percent," McNeilly said of the total 1,070-person police force.

Robert Kennedy, chief of Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services, said the city has about 200 paramedics and about a half-dozen are on military reserve. So far, none of them has been called to active duty, he said.

Allegheny County Police Assistant Superintendent Jim Morton said an exact number of reservists on its force was not available yesterday, and a state police spokeswoman in Harrisburg said she didn't know of any troopers who have been called up for duty.

Staff writers Cindi Lash, M. Ferguson Tinsley and Bill Heltzel contributed to this report.

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