Firefighters urge residents to keep up support

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK— With the possibility of Fire Department layoffs looming, residents continue to stick by its members.

Residents voiced their concerns Tuesday over the 30-day notices given to the entire 25-person department Feb. 24. The notices are required by their contract, and City Council members have said they signal the beginning of negotiations between the two parties.

The deadline for an agreement is March 26.

City officials have discussed options including consolidating services with the Taylor Fire Department. A video posted online recently by the department says the layoffs may include six to 12 firefighters instead of the entire department.

Jeff O’Riley, president of the department’s union, International Association of Firefighters Local 1410, thanked residents at the Tuesday’s City Council meeting for their continued support of the department and urged them to continue to contact the mayor and council about the issue.

“Continue to use your voice and tell the mayor and council that laying off firefighters is not acceptable and you demand an adequately staffed Fire Department,” he said.

O’Riley said the department is already understaffed, and that any layoffs would translate to danger to the public.

“We understand this city is in a horrible financial condition, and it would be easy to think that if you lay off firefighters, you may be able to save the city,” he said. “The reality is if you lay off any of them, the city will not be able to provide the bare minium in emergency services.”

The firefighters’ contract is up in 2012, but at the request of the city, they reopened negotiations last year, 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.

City Attorney Todd Flood said firefighters have been cooperating with the city’s current negotiations. He also addressed residents’ concerns that a recent state Senate ruling allowing emergency financial managers to oversee struggling cities could negatively affect the city. The bill gives emergency financial managers new powers, including voiding contracts and removing elected officials.

“The firefighters are doing an excellent job of coming to the table every time we’ve asked,” he said. “I’m very optiomistic. We’re trying to prevent what everyone’s asking, we’re trying to prevent the EFM.”

Councilman Kyle Tertzag, who was not present for the Feb. 22 council vote to issue the layoff notices, said he would have voted against it.

“Public safety should be the absolute last thing cut,” he said. “If we have to have 6-feet-tall grass in the park, we have 6-feet-tall grass in the park. But you don’t cut police and fire before you cut every other thing.”