PORTLAND, OR – Portland’s Fire & Rescue Bureau Tuesday issued layoff notices to 26 personnel, based on the city’s approved 2013-14 budget.
The notices are required, even though city officials and the fire chief are hopeful that other funding may materialize before the layoffs are due to become effective on Oct. 9.
Fire Chief Erin Janssens said in May that she was optimistic that the bureau might receive a federal SAFER grant to make up the funding to avoid those cuts.
But in a release Tuesday, Mayor Charlie Hales said the city is not sure it will seek the federal grant.
The timing to apply for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, Grant from the federal Emergency Management Agency is between July 29 and Aug. 30.
“What we don’t know yet, is what strings are attached to the FEMA grant,” Hales said in a prepared release. “The rules for the grant already have been delayed by months, and we’re just now finally seeing them. We want to read the rules carefully before we decide to apply. The devil’s in the fine print.”
Under labor rules, the notices are required, even though other funding could kick in before October.
“The City’s budget deficit is real. Unfortunately, these layoff notices are the result,” Fire Commissioner Dan Saltzman said. “We delayed these layoffs as long as possible. We will continue to explore cost savings through innovation, as well as potentially seeking federal assistance.”
Alan Ferschweiler, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 43, said he’s surprised by the mayor’s comments. He said the federal grant would pay for the firefighters over the next two years, and “there’s no strings attached.”
In the past, the city would have had to keep the firefighters employed for three more years after accepting such a federal two-year grant. But that clause isn’t in effect anymore, Ferschweiler said.
“It just seems really odd that that wouldn’t be a very good option,” Ferschweiler said of the federal SAFER grant.
The fire bureau’s 4.7 percent cut in spending for next fiscal year will also result in the loss of the fire bureau’s dive team, elimination of a safety chief – a job that will be assumed by three deputy chiefs – and the loss of three fire investigators.
Rather than seeking layoffs July 1, the city offered $587,000 in “bridge funding” through the first quarter of 2013-14. The bridge money was drawn from the bureau’s Apparatus Reserve Fund.
That delayed the layoffs until October, allowing the city time to apply for the federal grant.
As part of the fire bureau’s budget, two stations – Station 2, 4800 N.E. 122nd Ave., and Station 8, North Lombard and Interstate Avenue – will lose both their engine and ladder trucks but gain a new apparatus called a Quint, a truck that contains both a water pump and aerial ladder. Staffing at the two stations also will be reduced from eight firefighters a shift to four.
From The Oregonian