EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 8, 2009

Stimulus money saves Lawrence, Methuen fire jobs

By Jill Harmacinski

Laid off firefighters in Lawrence and Methuen are headed back to work courtesy of $8.1 million in economic stimulus money released by Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday.

"It's absolutely great news," said Lawrence fire Chief Peter Takvorian, who was forced to close two of six city firehouses and lay off eight firefighters this summer due to budget cuts.

Patrick Driscoll, president of the Lawrence Firefighters Union, called the grant money "fabulous" and hoped the city would put it to use immediately to get firefighters back to work.

The state gave Lawrence $520,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act discretionary funds, federal money officials said they will use to bring back eight firefighters laid off this summer.

Takvorian was unsure if the influx of much-needed cash meant he'd be able to reopen shuttered firehouses in the Tower and Prospect Hill neighborhoods. But doing so remains a top priority for him, he said.

"I hope to work closely with the mayor and the budget and finance director to get one or more of those houses open," he said.

He described the grants handed down yesterday "as the best news I've had in six months."

Methuen fire Chief Steven Buote agreed.

"I'm ecstatic. This has been a very good day," he said.

Methuen will receive $204,980 to bring back three firefighters who were laid off July 1, Buote said.

This is the first of a three-step process for Methuen, Buote said. The next step is to restore four firefighting positions lost through attrition and the final step is to restore funding from overtime cuts, he said.

He said Methuen was awarded nearly 100 percent of what it requested, "so this is fantastic news."

The $8.1 million released yesterday was earmarked for 13 departments across the state, including Lawrence and Methuen, that lost firefighters due to layoffs or attrition. Some 87 fire departments across the state applied for the funding.

The funding puts 127 firefighters across the state back to work, according to information released by Patrick's office yesterday.

"These stimulus funds come at a critical time, and promise to bring immediate relief to those 13 departments and enhance local public safety," Patrick said.

State Rep. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, said Lawrence has seen some of the deepest cuts and "this funding is critical to help address staffing reductions."

Other communities that received grant money yesterday were North Attleborough, Bridgewater, Fall River, Lakeville, Monson, New Bedford, Easton, Hull, Quincy, Walpole and Worcester.

A second round, another $11.9 million in grant funding, will be available in two weeks.

Takvorian said the Lawrence Fire Department "has the potential to get additional money" in the second round as well.

He noted the money is given to the city on a one-time basis and does not insure Lawrence will be able to keep the firefighters on the job in the next budget cycle.

"It is a one-year deal. But I'll take it," Takvorian said. "You never know what will be available next year. We'll make the best possible use of this money and move forward. ... For now we are grateful for the opportunity we have."

Two other Lawrence Fire Department employees laid off this summer, a fire alarm dispatcher and an electrician, cannot be hired back with this first round of grant money. But Takvorian hopes money for those jobs could be found in the second round.

Staff reporter J.J. Huggins contributed to this story.