Layoffs, Budget Cuts & Deficits

From Glendale, AZ, to Tulsa, OK; from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Los Angeles, the news is the same — budgets are in crisis and firefighters must be laid off. The depth of the financial crisis is deep and emergency workers who haven't been handed a...


From Glendale, AZ, to Tulsa, OK; from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Los Angeles, the news is the same — budgets are in crisis and firefighters must be laid off. The depth of the financial crisis is deep and emergency workers who haven't been handed a pink slip already or heard the saber rattling of...


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From Glendale, AZ, to Tulsa, OK; from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Los Angeles, the news is the same — budgets are in crisis and firefighters must be laid off. The depth of the financial crisis is deep and emergency workers who haven't been handed a pink slip already or heard the saber rattling of layoffs are lucky.

Firehouses have been closed, rolling "brownouts" are routine, and mergers of departments are becoming more and more prevalent. Moreover, vacancies created by retirements and general employee turnover are not being filled and overtime is being cut as municipalities try to reduce crippling budget deficits. Ironically, some of those same communities are facing huge overtime expenses as departments try to staff fire stations with fewer personnel. And 2010 budgets for public safety look even worse, say those in the know.

The bottom line is that the safety of the public as well as firefighters and emergency personnel has been compromised as a result of governments trying to balance budgets on the backs of public servants, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), a labor organization representing more than 296,000 full-time career firefighters in every state and Canada.

"It's really overwhelming," said Lori Moore-Merrell, the IAFF's assistant to the general president, who is also responsible for technical research and information for the organization. Cities big and small are offering early-retirement and early-out programs, leaving vacancies unfilled and closing stations, all to save money, Moore-Merrell said. It's a trend that alarms her boss, Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF.

"When you reduce a ride (firefighter) off a rig, it's very difficult for a community to restore that position," Schaitberger said, noting that reductions in force for any department put a much larger burden on the firefighters who remain.

Schaitberger acknowledges that the cutback in firefighter forces nationwide is troubling and the IAFF is doing everything it can to work with its members and political leaders to reverse the trend. He said he and the IAFF staff have been working with government officials on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) SAFER program, perhaps the only glimmer of good news in the crisis.

SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants were created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help increase the number of trained personnel in their communities. The deadline for submitting applications for SAFER was Jan. 15 and awards are expected to be made quickly to get as many firefighters back to work as possible. While there are no guarantees, Schaitberger said he was optimistic that most of the laid-off firefighters around the nation will be headed back to work quickly as the SAFER money is awarded.

To put the crisis into some perspective, the IAFF conducted a "staffing survey report" of all its locals throughout the country. More than a third responded, according to the study and the numbers are bleak. The IAFF estimates that at least 542 locals are dealing with real or proposed layoffs and more than 5,400 positions will be lost. Moreover, it's estimated that more than 900 locals will lose a total of nearly 6,200 positions to attrition that are not expected to be filled anytime soon. With layoffs and lost positions through attrition, about 540 locals face company closures and 337 locals are looking at station closures. Additionally, some 230 locals are, or will be, dealing with "brownouts" during this economic crisis and 212 are looking at employee furloughs.

The IAFF has nearly 300,000 career firefighters in its membership, representing more than 3,100 affiliates. Its members are found in every state in the union and protect 85% of the nation's population.

Scanning the headlines from around the nation puts names and faces to the numbers. Some departments are laying off single firefighters while others are in the 10s and 100s.

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