With more than 400 first responders now facing layoffs, Houston firefighters answered the alarm, gathering in force, fighting back with both their voices and their feet, by marching on City Hall.
“The time has come to stop playing politics with public safety and stop jeopardizing the lives of not just citizens, but also the firefighters by threatening layoffs and fire station closures,” said Houston firefighter Ryan Lee.
Of course, Mayor Sylvester Turner says the force reduction is necessary to fill an $80 million financial gap generated by voter approved pay parity with Houston police.
But firefighters call that a “vindictive” grift and claim the Turner Administration hasn’t negotiated in good faith or genuinely searched the city’s $5 billion annual budget for the savings needed to maintain the current level of public protection.
“You jeopardize the public by laying off firefighters and talking about closing fire stations,” repeated Houston firefighter Corey Richardson.
“I just wish the two sides could come together in a meaningful way and solve this,” said Houston firefighter Jay McIntire.
Speaking on the steps of City Hall, Union President Marty Lancton laid down a political gauntlet to Council Members backing the Mayor’s lay-off plan.
“We’ll make sure you have another job come November,” promised Lancton.
Amid the yellow clad crowd were mayoral challengers marching in solidarity with firefighters.
“This is all about Sylvester Turner winning and the fact that the firefighters and the citizens of Houston are losing, he does not care,” said mayoral candidate Bill King.
“Let’s be brutally honest, this mayor has not made an effort to actually negotiate with this fire department, I mean he has not made an effort,” said mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee.
Fox 26 asked Mayor Turner’s spokespeople for comment. They referred us to Monday’s press release, which stated, among other things, that the firefighter’s union had rejected a 29 percent raise, phased in over five years.
The mayor also cited consultants who claim the city could shed 800 firefighters without compromising public safety.
Today’s march follows reports that half a dozen fire stations across the city will be closed as a result of the planned drawdown.
This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network.