'It's a catastrophic cut': Firefighter layoffs loom in Lorain

'It's a catastrophic cut': Firefighter layoffs loom in Lorain
Lorain Fire Dept. Equipment
Lorain Fire Dept. fire truck. (Source: WOIO)
Lorain Fire Dept. fire truck. (Source: WOIO)
Lorain Fire Dept. fire trucks. (Source: WOIO)
Lorain Fire Dept. fire trucks. (Source: WOIO)

LORAIN, OH (WOIO) - Twenty-three firefighters in Lorain are waiting to hear if they will have a job on July 1. The department is dependent on a grant from the federal government called the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.

Fire Chief Tom Brown said he's optimistic that the department will receive the funds, since the city won a similar grant in 2010. Brown said the department handled that money well, and has shown that they find creative ways to handle situations as a department.

He's optimistic, but also realistic about what it would mean for the department and the city, which is 24 square miles, and the 10th largest city in the state.

“We apply for grants for every year for equipment and upgrades and those type of things, but when you’re living day to day on a grant for personnel it’s just too dangerous,” said Brown. “It’s a catastrophic cut. I don’t think that we can go that deep. I think as time progresses, we’ll probably have to have more discussions, but if they want to have a semblance of fire service they can’t cut that deep.”

Mayor Chase Ritenauer declined to talk to Cleveland 19 about the proposed layoffs. His assistant said that he didn’t want to talk about anything until he knew if the city received the grant or not. 
The city has already authorized 23 layoff letters, Brown said, which were several more than the department anticipated. The cuts would come even after the fire department agreed to several pay and benefit concessions with the city.

“Any time you’re talking about closing fire stations, you’re adding a response time, which means larger fires and less safe cities,” said Brown. “You can count on mutual aid to an extent, but the surrounding cities also expect Lorain to have a base fire service -- they can't come and help our financial woes over and over and over again. They’ve got their own cities to protect as well,” said Brown. 

Brown said unfortunately in his 11 years as chief, he's faced the prospect of layoffs for nine of them, and he said his firefighters have, too.

“They’re, I hate to say it, they’re used to it too. It’s numbing when you keep going through it over and over again. Once they gave up their concessions they thought they were safe for awhile but it was always on the condition that we got the grant,” said Brown. “It’s not fun. It’s not fun having young guys wondering if they’re going to have a job in a month or two. It’s not fun wondering if you’re going to have 72 guys or 47 guys.”

Brown said that the department should learn if it received the grant by mid-June. He did credit the city with keeping the firefighters working up until the department knows if they received a grant or not, saying that the city could have laid personnel off earlier.

Brown also said the grant lasts for two years, so if the department receives it, he said he hopes that the city figures out budget solutions so the same dilemma doesn't arise again in two years.

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