CH officials playing politics with fire fighting

Today Cleveland Heights is less safe than it has been in years because city officials have slashed the city’s fire department by 10 percent.

The 69 firefighters and paramedics who remain since City Manager Bob Downey laid off three of them, and demoted two lieutenants, are struggling to respond to emergency calls. We have been forced to work overtime just to maintain minimum safe staffing levels.

The situation could get a lot worse–and less safe–for the residents of Cleveland Heights if city officials continue to whittle away at the fire department.

It did not have to be this way. The city turned its back on a $458,286 federal grant offered back in March to bring firefighters back to work. This is nearly half a million dollars that would have been poured into the local economy of Cleveland Heights to keep the city safe and keep people employed.

In an economy like this, it’s foolish not to do everything we can to preserve jobs.

These grants are called SAFER grants because they help local communities keep their residents safe at a time when the economy is wreaking havoc on local budgets. Hundreds of U.S. cities facing similar budgeting issues have accepted $165 million in SAFER grants since the Federal Emergency Management Agency began distributing the money on March 31. Those grants put first responders back on the frontlines, and improved public safety in each community that welcomed the funding – but not here.

Cleveland Heights is less safe because Mayor Edward Kelley and City Manager Bob Downey rejected a federal grant and reduced staffing. They also have acknowledged that more layoffs in the fire department may be on the horizon.

While struggling to keep the city safe, Cleveland Heights Local 402 has bent over backwards to help the city meet its financial obligations. Last year, Local 402 offered to forego raises for its members in exchange for a promise not to lay off firefighters or paramedics. The city rejected that offer.

The matter went to arbitration and a ruling was issued granting extremely modest raises. The city responded to that decision by laying off firefighters and paramedics.

This is poor city management. Public safety should be a top priority for city leaders. Instead they appear to be waging a political war against first responders at the peril of the residents who rely on their fire department to keep them safe.

First responders are breaking their backs to keep Cleveland Heights safe. Every firefighter or paramedic cut means the department will have to struggle even harder to get to burning buildings in time and with enough resources to save lives and protect property.

The cuts must end because they jeopardize your safety. Our public officials must stop playing politics with public safety.

Paul Hallisy
President, CH Fire Fighters IAFF Local 402

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Volume 3, Issue 9, Posted 3:43 PM, 08.09.2010