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  • 31 Oct 2014

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26 firefighters receive layoff notices

As required by the new budget approved by the City Council, layoff notices to 26 personnel in Portland Fire & Rescue were handed out Tuesday.

Not all of the layoffs will take place if the city secures a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, which the council directed PF&R to research. But the rules for the grant were just released, and the council has not yet decided whether to apply for it.

“What we don’t know yet, is what strings are attached to the FEMA grant,” Mayor Charlie Hales said. “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.”

These are the city’s latest and last layoff notices as a result of the budget approved this spring. Other bureaus saw layoff notices prior to the end of the fiscal year in June.

Rather than do PF&R 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 consider conditions for applying for a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund personnel positions. The timing to apply for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, Grant is between July 29 and Aug. 30.

If layoffs happen, they would occur on Oct. 9. The notices are not guarantees of layoffs. 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.”

Mayor Charlie Hales announced this spring that all city bureaus would share in the effort to reduce the budget shortfall. Bureaus were asked to reduce budgets by 10 percent. Fire & Rescue offered a budget that would have closed seven fire stations.

The council rejected that option.

Working with Fire & Rescue and the firefighters union, a deal was struck to initiate the layoff notices; to seek alternative funding to avoid layoffs; and to seek savings through innovation, such as the use of ambulance-sized Rapid Response Vehicles for medical calls, and so-called Quints, which combine the technology of pumper trucks and ladder trucks.