- Rick McCrabb Staff Writer
The proposed layoff of 11 Middletown firefighters, which was scheduled to begin Saturday, has been extended until Aug. 30, according to the union’s spokesman.
The city issued 11 letters last month to the junior members of the Middletown Division of Fire — those with seven years of experience and less — notifying them they would be laid off on Aug. 16. In all, 15 positions would be cut from the department — four of them through attrition.
The city has agreed to a two-week extension to give officials time to draw up a proposed agreement to avoid the layoffs, according to Chris Klug, public information officer for International Association of Fire Fighters Local 336.
Les Landen, who is serving as Acting City Manager while Doug Adkins is on vacation, said the city and the union have held numerous discussions recently. He said the city extended the deadline to allow union members time to vote on the proposal.
“It’s in their hands,” said Landen, who declined to release information regarding the proposal.
Beginning Monday, the Middletown Division of Fire will implement a new staffing model called “first emergency first,” Klug wrote in a press release. This model includes the closing of Station 84 on Tytus Avenue.
The new model will place three firefighters in a station and each will cross staff a fire engine and medic unit, according to Klug. Firefighters will take the most appropriate vehicle to the scene, he said.
Fire Chief Steve Botts previously told the Journal-News that closing Station 84 and cutting firefighter positions could save about $1 million in the city’s budget.
Station 84, which services the northern part of the city, was built in the 1950s and needs a number of significant repairs, among which is the roof, fire Chief Steve Botts said.
Closing the station but keeping the utilities active would save the city about $20,000 annually, according to Botts. Disconnecting the utilities and mothballing the station would double that savings, he said.
Botts was unavailable Wednesday for comment.
The 74 members of the fire union will vote on the city’s proposal today through Saturday, according to Greg Justice, president of the fire union. He said the votes would be counted Sunday, and results announced later that night.
Justice said he wasn’t optimistic the union would approve the city’s proposal. He called the “first emergency first” model the “sticking point.” He said that type of staffing is inadequate and could create an unsafe environment for Middletown residents and firefighters. For instance, he said, if three ambulances were at Atrium Medical Center at the same time, there would be the potential that no firefighters would be available to response to a fire call.
“That puts everyone at jeopardy,” he said.
Cutting positions and reducing the public safety budget have been discussed, and debated, for months by members of City Council. Councilman Dan Picard, a vocal supporter of public safety when he ran for office, said he’s “very much” against reducing the budget at the expense of fire fighter jobs. He hopes the union OKs the deal, which, he said would be “a complete win” for the city.
Mayor Lawrence Mulligan Jr. said it’s the city’s responsibility to balance the budget through “creative ways,” while making sure the fire department delivers “high quality service.”