City could lay off all its firefighters

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Firefighter Grant Peace prepares to put on an air mask at the Allen Park Fire Department Thursday. The entire Allen Park Fire Department received 30-day notices of an impending lay off Thursday.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK — The city soon might lay off its entire Fire Department.

City Council members voted Tuesday to approve a resolution issuing layoff notices to the department as a way to address the city’s nearly $7 million budget deficit.

The issue is to go to a council vote in 30 days, as required by the department’s contract, to make the layoff notices effective.

Councilwoman Beverly Kelley presented the motion to the council Tuesday, in a meeting packed with firefighters, their families and concerned residents.

Wiping tears from her eyes, Kelley told the audience she was sorry, and that this was “the most horrible thing (she) had to do.” Kelley also said that when the matter comes back to the council, she will vote against it.

City Attorney Patrick Kruse said the notice triggers a 30-day period within which the city intends to negotiate with the Fire Department.

The entire 25-member department received layoff notices Thursday morning, except for the chief, who is not in the department’s union and is not required contractually to receive 30 days’ notice prior to being laid off.

“Like anyone else, we’re shocked,” union President Jeff O’Riley said. “We had a concession package, and we were told at that time it would get us through the year.”

The department’s contract runs through 2012, but its members reopened negotiations last fall, agreeing to $800,000 in concessions and reducing their budget to $3.2 million from $4 million. Firefighters also took pay cuts, from $60,000 a year to $55,000. Some firefighters at the meeting mentioned working extra shifts for free.

The department responds to upward of 2,700 calls for service each year.

Tensions ran high at the meeting, with audience members shouting out questions. Kelley even yelled for one woman to “shut up” after she spoke out of turn. Kelley later publicly apologized to the woman.

Councilman Felice Lalli blamed the proposed layoffs on City Administrator Eric Waidelich, and called for his resignation.

“We had two years of this,” Lalli said. “We knew about the situation, and apparently our administrator didn’t do anything about it. His job is to take care of this negotiation.”

For more than an hour, residents and firefighters approached the podium to urge council members to reconsider.

Many residents told stories about how the Fire Department saved their lives or the life of one of their loved ones. Others promised to move out of the city if the department was laid off.

Some wondered if the Police Department could be next, but city officials did not address any possible police cuts at the meeting.

Firefighter Ed Cann said the council should consider the liability it could face if it is not able to provide fire service.

“The liability will be overwhelming, and will be far more costly than your Fire and Police department.”

Firefighter Daniel Sampson said pay cuts should start at the administrative level before valuable services are cut.

“If we do something wrong, we’re held accountable,” Sampson said. “It’s time for you to be held accountable.”

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