The city laid off 23 firefighters yesterday in the latest move by Mayor William Lantigua to balance the budget. In addition to the layoffs, several high-ranking fire officials were demoted and the Engine 9 firehouse at 161 Bailey St., was closed -- the third fire station in the city that has been shut down due to the city's financial crisis.
"Lawrence is a busy city for fire and police," acting fire Chief Brian Murphy said yesterday. "We know it and we've told them, but it fell on deaf ears."
Members of the firefighters union met with city officials Tuesday afternoon, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on concessions to keep firefighters working.
"We were hoping to get some movement to avoid layoffs," said Lenny Degnan, Mayor Lantigua's chief of staff. "To be able to get people back, the union needs to make concessions."
"We don't want to lay off people, but we can't afford it in the financial situation we're in," Degnan said.
The layoffs went into effect at 8 a.m. Some high-ranking officials were demoted, including one captain to lieutenant and two lieutenants to firefighters.
The closure of the Engine 9 firehouse on Bailey Street was the department's third since last August, when Engine 6 at 480 Howard St. (Prospect Hill) and Engine 8 at 298 Ames St. (Tower Hill) were closed. Fire apparatus will be moved from Bailey Street to South Broadway.
"Clearly, moving the fire station out of my neighborhood is going to increase the response time to any emergency," said City Councilor Marc Laplante, who represents residents of the District F South Lawrence East neighborhood -- which includes Bailey Street.
"Whether it be police or fire, we want to keep things at the same level that it was two weeks ago. We need to do all we can to ensure those numbers don't drop, and that's one of the main reasons why I voted against the budget two weeks ago," Laplante said.
"I'm hoping that it doesn't take a tragedy for the city to move in the direction to beef up the fire and police services. Right now, we're beyond a skeleton. For a city of our population and our complexity, we need to have the kind of fire protection we had before these cuts," he said.
Laplante worried the station closure and layoffs could have serious consequences for an urban fire department that has many mills with wooden floors soaked with oil from the height of the city's textile days.
The councilor said he also wonders about the risk of the city becoming too dependent on out-of-town help to fight fires.
"My concern is that we're relying on mutual aid to provide for core services, and I'm not sure that our neighboring communities are going to continue providing us mutual aid when we're not doing all we should be doing to provide our own fire safety," Laplante said.
The closure of the Bailey Street firehouse has sparked fears in the neighborhood about public safety and the future of the city, according to Mark Pettengill, president of the South Common Central Neighborhood Association.
"These are the first responders and these are the guys who everybody kind of takes for granted being there -- and now they're not going to be there," said Pettengill, whose group represents about 40 families in the area.
"This is also the fire company that does the river watch, which is also a great concern to the people in the neighborhood. People are getting afraid about the loss of public safety. They're also concerned about losing business because of this," Pettengill said.
He said it's unrealistic to think the city can fix its fiscal problems by cutting back on public safety.
About a year ago, the city had close to 130 firefighters before it closed two fire stations.
Murphy said the city now has 72 firefighters -- including captains, lieutenants and firefighters -- barely enough for a city with half of Lawrence's 80,000 residents.
All firefighters and officers on duty yesterday responded to the fire at a single-family home on Kingston Street.
On the scene were three fire engines, a ladder truck and a rescue truck manned by a lieutenant and firefighters.
In addition to the shortage of personnel, Murphy said there are several areas in the city with little water pressure.
"We don't have adequate pressure because the water mains have not been maintained through the years," Murphy said.
If there had been a second call while fighting the Kingston Street blaze, Murphy said Lawrence would have had to call for mutual aid from Andover, North Andover and Lowell.
In his 31 years with the Fire Department, Murphy said he has watched it gradually become smaller.
"It has been dismantled to the level which is totally inadequate today," Murphy said.
Firefighter union President Patrick Driscoll, did not return repeated telephone calls.
Those laid off yesterday include (least seniority first and the most seniority last): Gary Poulin, David Amero, Estaban Arias, Joseph Carberry, Steven Lefebvre, Matthew Nadeau, Wayne Leduc, Mark Aliberti, Ian McDermott, Miguel Baez, Timothy Boutin, James Driscoll, Roger Jamesom, Ryan Lavallee, Deborah Nickerson, Brian Raineri, Tara Reardon, Michael Swarbrick, Mark Verville, Jason Belkus, Jay Flores, Rodney Rivera and Matthew McInnis.
Those demoted include Capt. John Meaney to lieutenant; acting Capt. Paul Maccarone to lieutenant; Lt. Mark Aliberti to firefighter/laid off; Lt. Tara Reardon to firefighter/laid off; and acting Lt. T. Kennedy to firefighter.
In addition, two lieutenant positions have been eliminated.
Written by The Eagle-Tribune
Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix