The Covid-19 pandemic has had catastrophic economic effects on local government revenue across the United States. While states scramble for ways to fund their governments as restricted economies lead to drastic reductions in revenue over time, local and state employees and public services are often the first budgetary lines that get slashed. Emergency services, and specifically the jobs of firefighters, are increasingly vulnerable as money dries up.
As we have previously noted, the economic destruction that has come with Covid-19 has had a ripple effect leading to the furloughs and layoffs of firefighters across the country. Within just a couple of months from the beginning of the crisis, in May, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) estimated that nearly 1,000 layoffs or furloughs had occurred in fire departments around the country. With the massive loss of revenues in cities and towns across the country the International Association of Fire Chiefs estimated that as many as 30,000 jobs could be lost going into 2021.
As 2020 dragged on it was the hope of people and industries across America that Congress would take action. Month after month with no aid from our elected officials, we now are officially into 2021 without small-town Fire/EMS being given little to no aid. When Congress passed additional funding at the last minute in December, the disappointing reality set in that fire services would not be included in receiving further assistance. Now the reality of even further layoffs continues into the new year.
In Ogdensburg, New York, for instance, the city is now faced cutting part of their department as their economic situation worsens. “With Ogdensburg’s proposed budget for 2021 includes the cutting of 10 firefighter jobs, which City Manager Stephen Jellie said is necessary for “saving the City of Ogdensburg from financial ruin…” The city is drafting a proposal to offer $20,000 for retirements in the hopes of avoiding the layoffs.
In New Orleans, city employees have been subject to furloughs which have required them one unpaid day off every two weeks since the fall. To exempt emergency personnel such as police and fire employees from further inclusion in the furlough, “officials plan to borrow from a $50 million line of credit the city took out last year to pay for the extra 26 days of pay for the public safety workers.” However, the loan was taken under the expectation that further stimulus will be passed to fund cities and states, and that the implementation of vaccines will jumpstart tourism to the city. But these are not guaranteed, and if neither pan out “Chief Financial Officer Norman White warned the city could be forced to lay off employees to make ends meet,” according to FireRescue1.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is also in desperate need of additional stimulus funding to rescue the jobs of their emergency and fire personnel. The city needs this funding by July 1st, notes FireHouse. “In addition to cutting 200 cops, more than 150 firefighters and more than 60 emergency medical services (paramedics) would be cut if the city doesn’t receive federal help.” The city says that it needs around $26 million to avoid what would amount to a disastrous hit to emergency services, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.
In July, FireRescue1 published results from a survey it conducted with its community around the country on how they view the economic effects of Covid-19 on their departments. The survey included “fire chiefs, firefighters, company officers, chief officers, and 14% identifying themselves as another rank.” The organization asked the respondents whether: “As a result of the pandemic and the likely economic impact, do you expect your department to experience staffing reductions?” 26 percent answered “Yes” and 49 percent answered “Unsure.” As the last round of stimulus aid took months to negotiate and does not include any additional funding for fire services it is all but expected that budget cuts will continue to afflict departments across America. With no new resources on the horizon in the near-term, it seems inevitable that layoffs will continue while the pandemic crisis grips the country.
According to a survey conducted by International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), almost 1,000 layoffs and furloughs of fire department employees, including front-line firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics have already taken place. As COVID-19 continues to keep many businesses closed and wreak havoc on our economy, stations have been forced to make budget cuts.