Exactly how many firefighters will cover Atlantic City — and how many could lose their jobs — remains a question.
"Sign that grant," chanted dozens of firefighters as they made a lap around City Hall during a mostly quiet rally to push for the city to apply for a federal grant expansion to cover the 85 firefighters in danger of getting laid off July 1.
Mayor Don Guardian said that the city currently can afford just 150 of the 236 firefighters working. A grant that pays for an additional 50 will be lost if there is just one layoff.
The Fire Department's leadership wants to put in for an amendment to raise the grant number to 85, which would then avoid layoffs.
But Guardian said the “right-sized” department has been determined to be 185, and that the city is trying to see if it can change the grant to 35, and layoff the 50 firefighters currently on the grant.
If not, the city still could put in for 85 firefighters, and avoid layoffs at all. Then, the city would look to get to 185 through attrition, Guardian said.
“They’re going off a report no one has seen,” fire union President Chris Emmell said of the 185 number. “Time and time again, our top chiefs have said we need the number we are at.”
The union points out that the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant that has the department at 236 based its decisions off of the National Fire Protection Association standards, which includes allowing for the proper number of firefighters to respond to a fire or other emergency.
“I have six senior buildings and the High Gate in my ward,” said Third Ward Councilman Marty Small, who came by at the end of the rally to show his support. “That’s seven high-rises.”
Small went up to the mayor’s office, and said there was a meeting going on that included Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin.
“Know that I support you guys,” Small told the firefighters, adding that he also supports the Recreation Department workers on the layoff list. “I hope we can get this done for the citizens of Atlantic City.”
An arbitrator’s ruling could find savings that would pay for more firefighters, but how many that could be is uncertain. The ruling was due midnight Wednesday, but the arbitrator asked for an extension. Her decision is now expected by midnight Thursday.
The city also requested an extension on the grant deadline, which is now Friday. The city should make its decision by Friday afternoon.
The issue is only over money, Guardian told reporters in his meeting room Thursday. He turned away Emmell, saying they can’t talk while the arbitration is still not settled.
That meant firefighters could only wait Thursday afternoon.
“This would be detrimental to our family," Gena Laielli said of the layoffs, which could affect her husband.
Their daughter, Emma Rose, was born nearly two years ago with giant omphalocele, a condition that caused many of her abdominal organs to form outside of her body in a sac. She has had many long-term hospital stays.
The family just returned Wednesday from Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, where she had her third surgery. Without Firefighter Ron Laielli's benefits, the family will struggle to get her treatment, which includes a nurse and a feeding tube as her only sustenance.