Union: City of Houston plans to lay off 238 firefighters, close stations

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by Gabe Gutierrez / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on May 6, 2011 at 12:45 AM

Updated Friday, May 6 at 1:01 AM

HOUSTON – The City of Houston plans to lay off 238 firefighters as part of ongoing budget cuts, union officials said Thursday.

Firefighters gathered outside of their monthly union meeting Thursday and spoke with KHOU 11 News. They requested anonymity because they feared for their jobs.

"We’re literally losing sleep over it," said one firefighter, who expects a phone call Friday notifying him that he will be pink-slipped. “I’m dreading it so much. I have a family back home. I got a wife, a kid, a mortgage to pay. (I have) a lot of commitments -- and this job is really all I’ve got.”

Firefighters said they started to get phone calls Thursday notifying them about special meetings next week. That's when employees with the least seniority expect to get official notice they will be let go on July 1.

Mayor Annise Parker’s office would not confirm the number of potential layoffs, but it released a written statement late Thursday.

“We are in active meet and confer with the firefighters’ union and we appreciate their suggestions,” Parker said. “We are not going to negotiate in the media. The budget remains a work in progress, and we continue to remain hopeful that we’ll be able to reach an agreement that avoids the need for firefighter layoffs.”

Jeff Caynon, the president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, said the union was simply responding to reporters’ questions and hadn’t sought media attention.

"The effect is on public safety for the entire city," Caynon said. “My members feel like they've been vilified by this administration."

Caynon said the cuts could mean about 10 fire stations would close.

Months ago, Parker ordered the fire department to come up with $17 million in cuts. The union says that's unreasonable. Parker has repeatedly said she doesn't "intend" to lay off firefighters.

But at this point, many of those firefighters don't buy it.

"I feel the city's turning their back on the people that serve their community," one of them said. "I would beg her for my job. I would do whatever you needed me to do. As one of the men getting laid off, what do I need to do to save my job? I'll do anything. I'll do anything to serve this community."

Morale within the department seems to be at all-time low.

"I'd like to tell her she's making a really big mistake,” said another firefighter. “I really don't know what the city's going to do, losing 230 firefighters. Seems like we're short-handed as it is."

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