Doomsday was delayed on Tuesday for the Atlantic City Fire Department but not averted.
Fifty-one firefighters were slated to lose their jobs on Wednesday due to the expiration of federal grant money. On Tuesday, the city approved $125,000 in the department’s overtime budget which extended the deadline to December 13. Now firefighters are hoping they can be re-approved for $10 million in federal money under a safer grant program.
Cheri Michael, an Atlantic City resident, fears that if the federal funding is not approved, the safety of her children will be in jeopardy.
“I live in an apartment building and if something catches fire I need to get out fast,” Michael said. “I need them to get there. I take no chances when it comes to my children.”
Atlantic City currently has 262 fire personnel who respond to around 40,000 residents year round as well as events that can attract more than 200,000 tourists on any given day.
Atlantic City Fire Chief Dennis Brooks fears both the emotional and safety impact the layoffs would have.
“Emotionally, I’ve been through this before and it’s devastating to me as a chief,” he said. “It’s devastating to each firefighter. From a safety point of view we would be cutting three companies which would be 30% of the department.”
Brooks says none of the fire stations would close their doors entirely. However, he also says two engine companies and a ladder company would have to consolidate and personnel would be reassigned and retrained. Brooks says it’s too early to talk about furloughs however.
“We’d probably have to cancel vacations if things really got scary as a last resort,” he said.
Department officials continue to work on a writing a new grant as the deadline approaches.