Ohio city, union trying to avoid firefighter layoffs

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The Journal News

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — City officials and union leaders say they're working to avoid the layoffs of 11 Middletown firefighters before an August deadline.

Firefighters were given layoff notices last week that would take effect at 7 p.m. Aug. 16, if officials can't reach a deal.

A total of 15 firefighter positions are threatened to be eliminated from the Middletown Division of Fire's budget. Four positions will be reduced through retirements, said Chris Klug, president of the firefighters union.

"Middletown Firefighters Union tries to remain hopeful that the city and they will be able to keep from laying off," a statement, released Friday, by the union said. "However, those given layoff notices are already out applying for other jobs to make sure they can support their families at the end of the day."

Public safety cuts are being made to help reduce the city's general fund expenditures by $2.25 million over the next two to three years, officials previously said.

"Nobody wants to lay people off, nobody wants to reduce services but sometimes financial reality is just financial reality," Les Landen, the law director for the city, said Saturday. "Hopefully we can get something that we all think is a little better than this. We're going to do the best we can do."

He said city officials and union representatives are still actively negotiating in hopes of brokering a deal before Aug. 16.

The fire department only employs full-time crew and Landen said union officials have not been receptive to the idea of replacing some of the laid off staff with part-time workers.

Middletown last laid off six firefighters in 2012 but were able to bring back those firefighters when they were awarded a federal grant. That grant runs out on Aug. 6, Klug said.

"We looked at concessions, doing a grant extension, any possible variety of ways to keep this from happening," Klug said.

If the city decides to move forward with layoffs, one of the city's five fire stations — Station 84 located at Tytus Avenue — will close. The remaining four stations will be staffed with three personnel that will maintain a fire engine and medic unit, according to a statement from the union. Emergency crews will respond to situations with the most appropriate vehicle.

Landen said he does not believe the layoffs or closure of the fire station will directly impact city residents' safety. He said tasks such as firefighter training and the frequency of fire hydrant flushing are some of the things that will be directly impacted with the layoffs. He said the city fire chief has come up with the proposed model, once the layoffs occur, as a result of recent cuts department funding in recent years.

"Do I think it makes us unsafe; that's the better question," Landen said. "No, I don't think it makes us unsafe. I don't think the (fire) chief would be doing this if it was unsafe."

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