Detroit Firefighters Hit Picket Lines to Protest Proposed Pension Cuts

July 23, 2013
Firefighters say they also need to let the public know their safety is in jeopardy.

July 22--Detroit firefighters will be picketing at spots across the city this week, to educate the public about safety issues and the danger to the public servants' pensions in the wake of Detroit's bankruptcy crisis.

Senior Firefighter Dennis Hunter, 42, of Farmington Hills, said he organized the pickets after listening to what he describes as political hyperbole. Hunter has been with the department for 14 years.

"What made me start it was listening to the politicians on the news saying what they wanted to say," said Hunter today from a picket outside Engine 51 at Livernois and Curtis on the city's northwest side. "I thought the firefighters should let the people know their safety is in jeopardy, and also to compel the judges and politicians to keep public safety priority number one."

Off-duty firefighters are volunteering to picket from 8 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. through Friday. They're carrying signs at eight locations throughout Detroit: Engine 51; Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield roads; Engine 50 at Houston Whittier Street and Gratiot Avenue; Engine 27 on Fort Street between Junction and Clark; Engine 32 at East Jefferson Avenue and Conner Street ; Squad 4 at West Grand Boulevard and I-94; Engine 5 at Cass and Alexandrine near Wayne State University, and firefighters from the Fourth Battalion will be at Grand River and Southfield.

The firefighters have four main points, Hunter said: insurance rates climb as firehouses close; public safety jobs like EMS are being outsourced; the department's current pension system is 96% funded and does not require state management; and the department has been cut severely.

Hunter said that in 1983 the department had 1800 firefighters, 77 fire companies and 30 fire-related deaths In comparison in 2012 -2013, the department operates 42 fire companies with 830 firefighters and had 79 fire-related deaths, he said.

The main concern to most walking the picket line outside the Fort Street firehouse in southwest Detroit Monday was the effect of potential pension cuts to both firefighters and their families.

Kelly Schimeck, 44, of Howell, widowed two years ago when her Detroit firefighter husband died from cancer , is concerned about what will happen to her and her two teenage daughters.

"I do work but I rely on my [late] husband's pension," she said. "It's really sad that it's come down to this. These men risk their lives everyday and it seems like nobody cares."

Donny Dooley, 48, of Detroit, protested with his young daughter on Monday. "We don't want a bail out -- just don't touch [our pensions.] This is our constitutional right," he says.

Despite the uncertainty, Senior Lieutenant Greg Alcala, 51, of Livonia, promises that services will continue. "It doesn't matter what happens with our financial status," said Alcala, who has 28 years of service. "Our guys will protect every worker, visitor, and citizen in this city. We're there for you 24/7."

Copyright 2013 - Detroit Free Press

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