LAWRENCE, Mass. — Starting today, firehouses around the city will be closed on a revolving basis to save money and stave off firefighter layoffs.
Fire Chief Peter Takvorian isn't happy about the plan, but described it as the best option in this economy. Engine companies will close on a rotating basis, lowering the number of firefighters on duty each day and cutting down on overtime costs.
"This is our fiscal reality for the foreseeable future," he said. "We are going to deal with it as best we can and try to run things as smoothly as possible."
The department had signs made and will post them at city firehouses when they are closed.
Deputy chiefs will decide which of the six firehouses will close on a shift-by-shift basis, Takvorian said.
"This is uncharted territory," he said. "We fully expect to have snags, and we'll work together to solve them."
The closures immediately save money in the city's overtime budget. Right now, 24 firefighters are required to work every shift. But due to a large number of vacancies, firefighters routinely work overtime to fill shifts.
There are 96 firefighters in the Lawrence Fire Department. The ranks are down 27 positions — 14 unfilled jobs, six firefighters recuperating from "in the line of duty injuries," and three firefighters on long-term sick leave. Four firefighters also recently retired.
Takvorian stressed that even before the revolving closures, the department was already lean on manpower. Firehouses on Tower and Prospect hills were closed recently due to equipment problems, a situation the chief previously referred to as a "test run."
The closures will have an impact on response times to emergencies. The budget situation "does not allow the level of public safety the city should be offered," the chief said.
"I understand all the concerns, but we don't have a choice," Takvorian said. "We'll do the best we can with the resources we have left."
The city hopes to save $1.5 million with worker furlough plans and department cutbacks. The fire and police departments are around-the-clock operations, making it nearly impossible to hammer out a 10-day furlough plan for those workers, according to Mark Andrews, the city's budget and finance director.
City officials are still working on a savings plan for the police department. Ten-day furlough plans are now being weighed by unions representing other city workers.
The city is grappling with a $2.4 million loss in state aid and deficits in the water and snow and ice removal budgets that total more than $2 million.
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