The City Council approved a grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday to prevent the layoff of 26 city firefighters.
"Hopefully, the layoff notices will be just a piece of paper and not reality," Mayor Charlie Hales said after the council unanimously approved the application.
Portland Firefighter Association President Alan Ferschweiler said the approval fulfilled a commitment the council made when it approved the budget that took effect on July 1. Ferschweiler said he was hopeful the grant would be approved to preserve current service levels.
The firefighters are scheduled to be laid off in October because of cuts to Portland Fire & Rescue approved by the council in the new budget. The $4,554,394 grant would pay the salaries and benefits for the firefighters for two years.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant (SAFER) is available to cities who are laying off firefighters because of budget problems. The new budget approved by the council included cuts in numerous bureaus, including PF&R, because city revenue have not yet recovered from the Great Recession.
The council knew the grant was available when it approved the budget and directed PF&R to prepare the application once the rules governing it were finalized. Fire Commissioner Dan Saltzman said the council wanted to make sure the rules did not require the council to fund the positions beyond the length of the grant before the application was submitted. The rules, which were just adopted, only requires the city to fund the positions for the length of the grant.
According to the ordinance that would authorize the application, the 26 layoffs are scheduled to result from the consolidation of four PF&R companies into two companies at Station 2, 4800 N.E. 122nd Ave., and Station 8, 7134 N. Maryland Ave. The ordinance also says some stations may close if the grant is not received.
Even if the grant is approved, the new budget has already consolidated crews at two other stations. Until the budget took effect, each station has a fire engine and ladder truck. They are being replaced with a single vehicle called a QUINT designed to perform both functions.
Ferschweiler says that change has endangered public safety by reducing the number of firefighters who immediately response to calls from the stations in Kenton and North Portland.