LORAIN, Ohio - Lorain city officials are now pushing to find a solution that will keep up to 12 firefighters employed after Washington rejected a needed grant extension.
If no solution is found, up to a dozen firefighters in the city of Lorain may be facing the ax.
"It was pretty devastating to get that news because, obviously, taking that amount of money out of the city's budget, we knew that would, could have a pretty profound effect on our department," said Lorain firefighter and Local 267 President Jonathon George.
George said the $1.73 million federal grant awarded about two years ago allowed the Lorain Fire Department to rehire seven firefighters and pick up another five more. The grant's two-year term is expected to come to an end on March 17, George told NewsChannel , which is why the city filed for an extension.
But George and other officials said they learned last week that extension was rejected for unknown reasons. That's a surprise to all, Lorain's Director of Public Safety & Service, Robert Fowler said Thursday, "All indications were that we were going to be in receipt of the funds."
"It came as quite shock," later agreed the union president.
Fowler told NewsChannel5 the extension was expected to provide about $750,000 for the fire department now a loss to the city.
"We were very desperate for it," said George of the grant and the extension.
But without the extension, the city may not be able to keep those 12 firefighters on board. The result, George explained, would mean longer firefighter response times and more dangerous conditions to firefighters. The union president also noted more stations could close as a result.
Of the 12 firefighters now at risk of losing their jobs, George said, "I think all of them are veterans, uh, several of them are combat veterans, some of them have families."
Could this have been avoided?
"Not that I'm aware of but we're working through the budgetary process," said Fowler. The Public Safety & Service Director also said the city has until around March 31 to finalize their budget so there's still time to find or move around funds.
In the meantime, George said Lorain's fire chief is working with Washington politicians to reverse the extension rejection.
Crunching 2011 estimated population numbers with estimated firefighters, it appears the city of Cleveland, in 2011, operated roughly at around one firefighter for every 435 people. The city of Lorain, the same year, operated roughly around one firefighter per 790 people, and that's with the staff of 81 firefighters the federal grant provided.