Ohio Fire Dept. Drops 11 Firefighters After Layoffs

Sept. 01--MIDDLETOWN -- Sunday saw 11 Middletown firefighters without a job.

That's because of the layoffs that went into effect at Saturday night following fire department union voting, which by a 44-to-25 vote rejected a city proposal that would have saved the positions without wage reduction and eventually four more first-responder positions.

Greg Justice, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 336, said in a statement that after counting the votes Friday night he determined Middletown firefighters didn't like "many of the features" drawn up by the city because of safety concerns, which he said left thousands of residents without "safe and adequate" fire and emergency medical service protection.

City Manager Doug Adkins said Middletown officials had already budgeted for the layoffs last November and spent eight months "preparing for this eventuality."

Layoff notices were handed out on Aug. 16, Adkins said. Only acceptance of the agreement would rescind the notices, so with the rejection on Friday night, the existing notices took effect on Saturday at 7 p.m., he said.

The job only can be added back to the workforce via union concessions or an improvement to the city's finances, Adkins said.

However, he said he is not optimistic that a compromise can be reached with the union.

"This is a deal where all the pieces had to work," Adkins said. "The math simply didn't work for the city. The union rejected it almost 2-to-1, so without any piece of that agreement, without all the pieces in place, the math simply doesn't work. It puts us in a budget deficit."

The layoffs drop Middletown from 76 to 65 full-time professional firefighters. The city doesn't employ part-time or utilize volunteer fire crew members.

Raphael Mayweather of Middletown said he wouldn't have wanted to see a deficient plan in place, but believes that both sides should have agreed to a solution that ended without firefighters losing their jobs.

"Any job when it comes to protection like police and firefighters and people running emergency vehicles I feel that they're important to the community," Mayweather said. "We need to have as many, if not more of them. I don't want to see anybody losing their jobs."

Justin Wright of Middletown echoed Mayweather's sentiment that job loss was not the way negotiations should have ended, adding that it could jeopardize resident safety.

"There won't be as many emergency response teams to get to an emergency as soon as possible," Wright said.

But Adkins said safety shouldn't be an issue when it comes to the diminished fire staff. In 2013, Middletown Division of Fire responded to 51 confirmed structure fires, which effectively is one fire per week, he said.

"We have plenty of manpower and equipment to handle our current fire load and we've got mutual aid agreements in place with our neighboring communities for well over a decade," Adkins said. "It's going to require more work on their part but ... yes, we'll respond as we always have to the needs of the citizens of Middletown."

Adkins said it was a combination of saving unemployment costs by saving those jobs, as well as grants and concessions by the union and it took all three of those to make the deal work for the city.

"Without any of the three, the deal simply doesn't work for us financially," he said. "We can't afford it."

Adkins said "the math is fairly straightforward" on the part of the city of Middletown.

"We're budgeted to spend a million more then we are going to take in in 2014 and so that is an unsustainable model and something has to give," he said. "If we can't come up with a compromise that works with the fire union then ultimately budget cuts are the only other avenue that we have to work with."

Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Copyright 2014 - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

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