Thirteen firefighters found out yesterday morning that they are being cut from the department, effective next month. Three will be forced into retirement, the other ten laid off.
How exactly these cuts will affect the department's service is still to be seen. But many firefighters say that the department has already been cut dangerously low over the years, and fear that more layoffs will inevitably lead to even slower emergency response times and more firefighter injuries.
"It's gonna blow up," says Mark Lakosky, president of the Minneapolis firefighter union. "There is just a bottom line to operate in a successful fire department."[jump] Gripes about low staffing in the Minneapolis fire department are nothing new.
Since Mayor R.T. Rybak took office, the department has seen cuts that firefighters say have changed day-to-day operations, making an already dangerous job even more dangerous. In turn, many firefighters have become skeptical of whether city officials have their best interests in mind.
"It doesn't really feel like the City Council's behind this department," one firefighter told City Pages in an interview last fall. "Every morning we come in here and it feels like we're getting shit on."
But city officials says they're doing the best they can to make ends meet in a tough economy.
This week's layoffs are part of an unstoppable "waterfall" of cuts triggered by the Minnesota Legislature cutting Local Government Aid, says John Stiles, spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak.
"Cities are where the rubber meets the road," says Stiles. "So when the state passes its fiscal problems and unwillingness or inability to balance its budget sustainably, we have to take action. We can't pass that onto anyone else."
And while they can't stop the cuts, Stiles says they're doing all they can to soften the blow. Rybak and the City Council are saving several firefighter positions by mitigating the LGA cuts with $1.75 million from the city's contingency fund, says Stiles.
Still, losing 13 firefighters will impact daily staffing levels. Right now, the city-mandated minimum amount of firefighters on the clock on a given day is 96.
While that standard has yet to officially be changed by the City Council, these new cuts will bring daily staffing to 93, says Minneapolis Asst. Fire Chief Cherie Penn.
"It will affect the standard of coverage," says Penn. "I don't know how to tap dance around that one."