Atlantic City firefighters received layoff notices Monday in preparation for the end of a federal grant that pays 51 of their salaries.
The city has applied to have the two-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant — whose funds run out next month — extended another two years. But that word has not yet come.
The notices needed to go out by Monday in order to meet a required 45-day notification mandate. While all Fire Department personnel received them, “51 guys are on the chopping block,” Fire Union President Chris Emmell said.
That is about 20 percent of the current staff of 256.
The federal government shutdown has cast an even bigger shadow over the funds.
“The problem is, everybody’s shut down,” Emmell said. “You can’t even do anything.”
The grant funds only salaries for personnel who respond to fires and is an acknowledgement that the city needs that number for proper response times.
Fire Chief Dennis Brooks has said the cut would likely mean closing two to three of the city’s 11 companies per shift — or as many as six companies in a 24-hour period.
The notifications — which put Nov. 21 as the layoff date — could potentially help the city move up in priority for the grant, which puts those departments with personnel already laid off at the top of the list.
But it’s unclear whether that would require the city to reapply or whether they could update the application they already made. With the government shut down, that question could not be immediately answered.
While those hired on the grant knew the notices were coming, Emmell said the shutdown has increased their worry.
“It takes us right to the edge,” he said.
Public Safety Director Will Glass said discussions to try to keep the personnel continue.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get this SAFER grant extended and the new SAFER grant in place,” Glass said. “We’re waiting to hear back from the government. The shutdown has not been helpful.”
The $9.7 million SAFER grant was awarded in 2011, and actually ran out this past May. But, with $3.5 million unspent, the city was given permission to use the remaining funds.
The grant was first awarded after the city laid off 30 firefighters in 2010. It allowed them to hire back all those eligible personnel and add more. As firefighters left the department, those at the top of the list moved over to the city payroll and new firefighters were hired to fill the grant openings.
About four firefighters that were laid off last time are on the potential layoff list again, according to personnel records. Two former police officers who were part of citywide layoffs in 2010 and have since gone to the Fire Department also could be laid off.
“You lose 51 guys, that’s going to be quite devastating to the city,” Emmell said.
He pointed to last Friday, when the department responded to a fire and a major three-vehicle crash involving a bus and more than a dozen injuries.
“That was four engines, a ladder and a rescue truck,” Emmell said.
“It’s devastating, let’s put it that way,” he added. “Especially with the shutdown. It’s just scary.”
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