Firefighters protest proposed staff cuts
Milwaukee firefighters packed City Hall this morning to protest staff cuts Fire Chief Doug Holton has proposed for the 2009 city budget.
Officials with Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association Local 215, aldermen and firefighters from the St. Paul, Minn., Fire Department spoke to a crowd of about 200 firefighters, retired and active, and their families.
"It's not just about firefighter safety, it's about your family's safety," Local 215 President Bobbie Webber said of the proposed cuts.
Chris Parsons, secretary of the St. Paul firefighters union, said Holton made similar cuts while chief of that department, creating what he called "a crisis" and leading to the union giving him a vote of no confidence.
Holton has proposed eliminating 39 positions by reducing the number of firefighters on ladder trucks from five to four. Those jobs would be lost to attrition, Eileen Force, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said last week.
Holton would not comment today, but issued a statement saying the National Fire Protection Association, which requires only four-member ladder teams, has scrutinized his department for having five.
"I am confident that through the political process we will all agree to support a strategy that combines the highest level of firefighter safety with the highest level of fire, EMS and rescue services to all residents of our city," the statement read.
Firefighter Mark Pegelow said crews are understaffed already and with another round of cuts, things would get worse.
"Trying to get things done on a day-to-day basis is impossible. We can't accomplish the jobs without enough manpower," Pegelow said as he picketed outside City Hall after the news conference.
Barrett has proposed firefighter cuts each of the last three years. Each time, the firefighters union protested, and fewer jobs were cut.