Georgia Fire Department Lays Off 82 Recruits

DeKalb County laid off 82 firefighter recruits Monday to help meet budget cuts.

Eliminating the recruits will help preserve jobs for about 810 existing firefighters/paramedics in DeKalb, Fire Chief Eddie O'Brien said.

Last month, the county commission rejected a tax increase and cut $33.6 million from the budget, including about $7 million from the fire department.

Despite the cuts, residents should still see the same number of firefighters responding to house fires. However, starting this summer the county will no longer staff ambulances to transport patients to hospitals.

"We will still have the same number of firefighters out there," O'Brien said.

The recruit cuts are also designed to facilitate outsourcing of EMS transports, O'Brien said. The county currently operates 16 ambulances and a private vendor, Rural/Metro, runs 15 ambulances in the county. The county plans to completely privatize ambulance transports starting this summer.

"It's changing our whole service model," said O'Brien, a 25-year veteran who was named chief two weeks ago. "It's huge. We've never known DeKalb County to not transport patients."

Employees staffing the ambulances, who are already trained in fire response, will now handle fire duties.

The chief said he is still finalizing the numbers, but anticipates that cutting the recruits and not filling about a dozen vacancies will help meet the $7 million cut.

About 25 of the 82 recruits were scheduled to finish their training and hit the streets in about three weeks.

On Monday, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran distributed applications to the DeKalb recruits. Atlanta Fire has 110 vacancies it is trying to fill, Atlanta Fire Capt. Jolyon Bundrige said.

"Those about to graduate would have an abbreviated training class," he said. "Our training academy would customize recruit class to meet necessary requirements."

Some of the recruits also will be able to apply for several vacancies in DeKalb's 911 center.

The recruits, who made about $33,000 annually, will be paid for two more weeks.

While the county will save on salary and benefits, it will lose the about $3,400 spent to train each of the 82 recruits.

The layoffs could put the county at risk for losing a national firefighting grant. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded DeKalb $6.9 million to be staggered over several years to hire more firefighters.

O'Brien said he is now drafting an amendment to the grant, which he anticipates the federal government will approve.