Warren set to lay off SAFER firefighters

WARREN – City officials are preparing to lay off six of the eight firefighters hired since 2010 with federal funds from the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant.

The $4.9 million grant Warren received expires May 26.

”We are still working to obtain get a new grant, but are preparing for the worst,” said Mayor Doug Franklin. ”The city’s budget has been written with the anticipation of layoffs of the SAFER firefighters. Severance packages and unemployment benefits are included.”

Of the 14 new firefighters hired with SAFER funds, eight are still with the department. The funding also let the city recall from a previous layoff 10 firefighters, who all will remain on the force even if the city does not find a way to get the additional money.

”We are able to keep two of the eight new firefighters because we had some retirements, and the department has been able to reduce spending,” said Franklin. ”The laid-off firefighters will have first right of recall with any new retirements.”

Fire Chief Ken Nussle said the city is expecting at least one other retirement before the end of the year, which could make room for another of the SAFER firefighters to be brought back.

Franklin, Nussle and other city officials are expected to outline the city’s post-SAFER grant plans during a City Council Police and Fire Committee meeting 5 p.m. today in council’s caucus chambers.

”We are looking to find out the number of firefighters, the financial impact of the loss of SAFER grant and what the city is looking at as far as manning the outside fire stations,” said Seventh Ward Councilman Eddie Colbert, chair of the Police and Fire Committee.

Franklin said the city’s strategies include making sure the remaining firefighters have the best equipment and training available.

”Using bond money approved by council, we purchased a new self-contained rescue truck,” said Franklin. ”This truck is much more advance and self-contained than the vehicle it is replacing.”

The new truck is expected to be fully equipped and at the city’s main fire station in the next week. The city also had another truck delivered in February 2013. The new vehicles will enable fewer firefighters to be sent to a scene because they are better equipped and efficient, said Nussle.

One of the Franklin’s goals is keeping all three fire stations open. There have been times, though, when one or both of the outside stations were closed temporarily because of staffing and how the three stations will remain open when the department drops to 55 firefighters has not been finalized.

”We’re still having those discussions,” said Franklin.