Fire staff down by three after layoffs

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — At least three firefighters were expected to be laid off Friday, bringing the city’s department down to 16 active suppression/EMS staff and two administrators.

Fire Chief Liam Carroll said the department will likely be forced into overtime salary discussions with city officials to maintain safe staffing levels.

“We will be decimated with the layoffs,” Carroll said.

The city sent letters informing five firefighters they would be laid off effective Friday. City council approved the decision last month with a 30-day grace period before the terminations took effect, but union and city officials failed to reach an agreement for a new contract.

The department faced a potential loss of five positions, but Carroll said negotiations last week argued that two recent departures — a resignation and a retirement — should count toward the five. As of Thursday afternoon Carroll said he expected to keep the loss at three.

No matter the shortfall, Carroll said, fire and city officials would continue to explore either grants or a potential merger with one or more more neighboring departments. Service consolidations have been put into place in other Downriver communities, and Carroll said that such partnerships may be the best avenue considering the city’s struggling economy.

“We’re hopeful that somebody will be willing to come in a merger with us,” Carroll said. “The Dearborn-Melvindale (model) would be perfect for us.”

Carroll said the city has applied again for a federal funds, a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant similar to the $600,000 grant the city had applied for then did not accept in 2012. City officials at the time said the grant came with too many strings; the rejection came on the heels of the November 2012 rejection by voters of a bond proposal and Headlee Amendment override that would have shored up the general fund. Instead, the budget limitations resulted in the city having to reduce staff — and minimize a $3 million budget deficit — or else risk falling under emergency management.

Mayor Patricia Diaz-Krause said the failure last week of city officials and union negotiators to reach an agreement was a setback, but that both sides understand the priority at stake.

“I’m trusting that a contract will be developed,” Krause said. “Jeopardizing public safety is not something I anticipate happening. The guys are going to function and do well and serve us.”

Carroll said that adjustments would be made at the station.

“We try,” Carroll said. “We’re a group of dedicated guys who will always try.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)