Massachusetts Firefighter Serving in Iraq Gets Pink Slip

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The budget battle being waged in cities and towns across Massachusetts reached the front lines last week, when a soldier serving his third tour of duty in Iraq received his pink slip.

NewsCenter 5's Kelley Tuthill reported that Leo Pike, who was deployed to Iraq again in September with the Navy Reserves, opened his mail Thursday and learned that he will be losing his job as a New Bedford firefighter.

"He loves being a firefighter," said Pike's fiance Renee Garbitt. "He loves his job and he says that he's one of those people that's happy to go to work every day."

Garbitt, who is raising their 2-year-old son, Leo, on her own while Pike is deployed over seas, said that the layoffs were enacted with little consideration for the disadvantages the family would face as a result of Pike's military service.

"He's going to have to come home to no job and, now, competing with 76 others who have had quite a head start on him," Garbitt said.

New Bedford Fire Chief Paul Leger said that he made every effort to contact Pike and notify him of the job cuts. Leger said that the department followed civil service protocol in making the cuts.

"It was a tough, tough decision and I wish that we didn't have to make that decision at all," said Leger. "It was a very difficult decision."

Protestors recently rallied at city hall to oppose the heavy job cuts, after it was announced that 35 firefighters and 38 police officers would be laid off. Garbitt worried this week that Pike will not have access to career services until he returns from the Middle East.

"Given the disadvantages, perhaps there should be alternative consideration made for folks who are serving over seas," said Garbitt.

The law forbids job discrimination against soldiers, but does not provide any special protection against layoffs, according to the Department of Labor. The firefighters union said that it will appeal Pike's case on the grounds that he was not notified about the impending cuts and that he was denied his right to a hearing.

"I couldn't believe that after all the years of service and dedication to the job and the love of what he does that it would just be a letter in the mail one day," said Garbitt.

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