Ohio Firefighters Protest Layoffs

Updated: 03-09-2007 09:13:36 AM

The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

Fed-up firefighters in Clinton Township showed up last night for a trustees' meeting to vent, ask questions and -- in some cases -- resign.

The firefighters are upset that two full-time colleagues were laid off recently because of budget cuts. A third would have been let go, but another full-time firefighter resigned instead. The loss of three positions will save $270,000 a year in wages and benefits for a department with a $1.3 million budget, officials said.

Frustration grew last night when Trustee Chairman Larry Wilkes said an investigator will be hired to determine who is making phone calls and writing anonymous letters to some residents, criticizing the way the fire department is run.

One audience member asked how much the investigation would cost.

"I don't know, but it's going to be worth it," Wilkes said.

Jon Shinkle, a township firefighter, said it amounted to a "witch hunt," and added, "I don't think it's going to change anything."

Chris Biasella, a part-time firefighter with the township for 10 years, stood up and turned in three resignation letters, including his own. Then colleague Brian Niemet handed in his.

Niemet and others in attendance said taxpayers' dollars would be better spent on bringing back the laid-off firefighters.

"Do you want to pay them?" Wilkes said to the crowd of 20.

Some in attendance said the money would be available if the trustees dumped Assistant Fire Chief John Harris, who was not at the meeting.

The sentiment seemed to echo thoughts in a four-page anonymous letter that some residents received. It said: "Hey, here's an idea: Save the $66,000 (in salary to Harris) and pay for two laid-off firefighters that actually work and answer people's calls for help."

Wilkes said Harris has raised about $70,000 in grants and that his leadership is valuable in support of Fire Chief Randy Stickle.

Kurt Dietz, one of the laid-off firefighters, said it's hard to understand why two chiefs are needed to supervise only six full-time firefighters.

"You don't have as much detail (on the situation) as I have," Wilkes responded.

The township had 25 part-time firefighters; eight have resigned since the layoffs. Two new part-timers were hired last night, including Kevin Childs, who was one of the full-time firefighters laid off.

After the meeting, Biasella said he resigned after 10 years because "it's pretty much a moral obligation."

"None of us wanted to quit," he said.