Thanks to the federal government, Lawrence has, for now, the money it needs to fully staff its Fire Department.

What the Fire Department desperately needs now is professional management that knows how best to manage that money and how to get by when the federal largess runs out.

Acting fire Chief Brian Murphy demonstrated once again Thursday night that he is not up to the task. Murphy has decades of experience fighting fires in Lawrence. But his skills as a departmental leader are sorely lacking.

In an emotional address to the City Council, Murphy said he would step down as provisional chief and return to his former job as deputy chief. Murphy accused Mayor William Lantigua of making "bizarre threats" against the department, "continuously throwing roadblocks" in its way, and attempting to gag his criticism, reporter Keith Eddings wrote.

Budget cuts last July forced the layoff of dozens of Lawrence employees, including 23 firefighters. While employees in other city departments had given back pay and benefits in an effort to preserve jobs, firefighters had resisted similar concessions.

Finally, in September, firefighters agreed to $241,000 in contract concessions, enough to rehire eight laid-off firefighters. But the gain was short-lived as eight firefighters subsequently went out on injury leave.

Lawrence was left depending on surrounding communities to help fight its fires — an abuse of the mutual aid system that angered other fire chiefs around the region.

Murphy has complained publicly, often bitterly, that his department is woefully understaffed for a city of Lawrence's size.

That does seem to be the case. But Lawrence is also virtually bankrupt, forced to plead for state permission to borrow money to balance its budget.

It is Murphy's job to be an advocate for the best firefighting force the city can afford. And he was right to lay out for the mayor what he believes are his department's needs.

But a fire chief also must deal with fiscal realities — to go to war with the army he has, so to speak.

Murphy should have been working feverishly with Lantigua to find ways to save money and put more firefighters on the street. Instead, he took every opportunity to slam the mayor and harangue him about his department's funding.

There's always more money, Murphy told Eagle-Tribune editors in a meeting last summer.

Now, courtesy of federal taxpayers, a flood of new money has come into Lawrence — $6.6 million, enough to hire 38 firefighters. That would restore all the positions lost to budget cuts and even hire 15 more.

Of course, this money is only temporary. It lasts for two years and then it's gone. Then, Lawrence will be back in the same position it is now — without enough money to provide the fire protection the city needs.

This dire situation did not materialize overnight. For years, city leaders have been too generous, granting pay, benefits and contract provisions it could never afford to sustain for long.

Fixing it will require political leaders and a fire chief who understand that, some day, there really will be no more money. Real leadership consists of knowing what to do then.

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