MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Dressed in bright red T-shirts, standing at the steps of Minneapolis City Hall, came the 10 human faces of firefighter layoffs. Four-year veteran firefighter Jonathan McClellan is among them. But the father of four is more concerned for the safety of his colleagues than the economic pain his unemployment will bring.
“What’s the meaning of this, is the safety of the city. For my brothers and sisters on the fire department this is going to affect their safety and possibly their lives,” McClellan said.
Flanked by the yellow shirts worn by fellow firefighters, the 10 who are losing their jobs came to city hall to sound an alarm. They maintain that the department is already dangerously thin and cutting further risks playing a dangerous game.
Because of a $23 million reduction in local government aid from the state, the city is being forced to make sweeping cuts in all of its departments. The fire department’s share will result in the loss of 10 union positions, putting the minimum daily staffing level under the 96 the council had earlier determined was safe.
At a meeting of the city council’s Ways and Means Committee, Fire Chief Alex Jackson was asked to characterize the impact of the cuts.
“To be honest with you, 93 is cutting it in my opinion, cutting it way too short,” he said. “But I’m in compliance with the budget the city has.”
Jackson also talked about the complicated nature of the situation. He said they have to take into account overtime, military leave, injured firefighters and vacations. And the reductions in staff could end up costing even more money.
NewsRadio 830 WCCO’s Susie Jones Reports
Cutting the number of fire engines the department can staff will also result in shifting between stations. To show their concern, firefighters jammed into the third floor council chambers where the committee was meeting. While their T-shirts sent a strong message to the mayor over their displeasure, he was not in attendance.
Mayor Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles said the mayor is “never happy about laying off firefighters,” but added that, “something has to give.”
To that, Firefighters Local 82 President Mark Lakosky responded that the mayor’s “something” should be discretionary programs, not core emergency services.
“Mayor Rybak, you need to fund public safety and protect the citizens of Minneapolis, as you were elected to do,” Lakosky said. “You need to govern with what’s right for the citizens and not for re-election.”
The full City Council will meet on Friday to decide if the cuts can go forward without compromising safety, or if the cuts present too large of risk.