Hamilton firefighter layoffs take effect Wednesday

HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - As of Wednesday, five firefighters in the City of Hamilton will be laid off.

Tuesday night, firefighters who worked out of Station 27 at one time or another were invited back to see the place one last time as a firehouse.

It was part of a protest against the city's decision to lay off those workers, as fire officials say this closure could jeopardize public safety.

In our commitment to balanced news, Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith says the layoffs will save the city around $750,000.  He said through an audit on efficiency last year, safety shouldn't be compromised with the layoffs.

However, firefighters say differently, citing rising response times and a negative impact on fire service city-wide.

As of Tuesday, on Shuler Avenue in Hamilton, Station 27 is no longer in operation as a firehouse.

"I was walking through today, and I was the only one in the entire engine house, and it's kind of a somber feeling.  I was just thinking of all the fond memories and the gentlemen that I had the pleasure of working with over the past years, 30 years," said Roger Fields, captain of Station 27.

Again, five firefighters will be laid off on Wednesday.  City leaders say at the recommendation of the fire chief, they'll move equipment around, and the decision to close is up to him.

"The decision to close Station 27 is not predicated on this action.  It's something that fire command staff is saying what they think is the best way to serve our residents," said city manager Joshua Smith.

But without this building being operational, neighbors are getting worried.

"Being a heart patient, if I have a third heart attack, even waiting that extra 60 seconds for another station to get to me, could be a matter of life and death," said Pamela Bushey, who lives near Station 27.

Through a 2012 analysis the city had done, they say public safety shouldn't suffer.  They say it showed the fire department was overstaffed.

"Our efficiency analysis clearly showed that we had enough capacity, enough what they call, fire capacity to easily respond to calls, even with less staffing than what we're proposing today," added Smith.

Fire union leaders disagree.  They say after layoffs, they'll have 96 firefighters, far below ideal staffing levels.

"To fully staff our department, seven engine companies, three squads and deputy chiefs, we need 118 firefighters.  Right now, we're running 22 firefighters short," said Eric Abney, Local 20 president.

Smith says there will still be eight pieces of apparatus up and running each day in Hamilton.

He also said, over the last four years, there have been around 75 layoffs throughout other city departments.

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