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...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
"The budget was already very tight," he said. "There was no fat to cut, so we had to look at personnel."
The city notified the union that 46 firefighters would be laid off on Oct. 1, plus 26 that had lost through attrition, representing about a 14% reduction in force of a department comprised of about 500. Rather than take the hit, the union decided to compromise and figure out what its membership could give up to make up the revenue shortfall. The members decided to forgo first-quarter 2010 raises, made concessions in education expenses and uniform allowances, and gave up physicals for a year.
"We were the only union to compromise to save jobs," Clelland said.
The members did so with the understanding that the city would apply for and, hopefully, obtain a SAFER grant, Clelland said, praising IAFF headquarters for working with the city to make sure the grant was in place and done properly. The application was filed long before the deadline and Clelland said the city hoped to hear by Feb. 6 whether it was awarded.
"We can't support that forever and the city knows that and knows we are doing everything we can to keep those jobs," he said.
In addition to the jobs themselves, Clelland said the city's Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating is at stake. Orlando spent years and millions of dollars to achieve its Class 1 status. Layoffs would wipe away all that effort in a heartbeat, dropping the city back to a Class 3 or 4 rating. "That might not mean a lot to the residents, but it will mean a lot to the businesses," Clelland said.
If the layoffs take effect, and the firefighters still have active pink slips in their possession, the first service to go will be EMS responses. Clelland said the city has eight rescue trucks that help out with the ambulances on medical calls. Next to go would be an engine company, then a heavy rescue, and none of these cuts are acceptable, Clelland said.
The Orlando Fire Department, founded in 1885, has not had any layoffs since the Great Depression and, if Clelland is successful in his efforts to preserve jobs, they won't in this recession, considered to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Clelland said Orlando, which is home to Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios, is dependent on tourists for income and on its reputation as a safe place to visit. It also has a bright future, once the economic slump is past, unlike some parts of the nation where businesses have shuttered never to be opened again.
"The city has been very supportive, but layoffs are not acceptable," Clelland said. "We're confident we will get out of this. We've had slumps before and we've always managed to recover."
ED BALLAM, a staff writer for Firehouse.com, is a firefighter with the Haverhill Corner, NH, Fire Department, a nationally certified EMT, and holds certifications in emergency vehicle operations and pump operations. He is a former managing editor of Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment magazine.