August 21, 2014

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Lorain firefighters prepare for layoffs

LORAIN — They knew there were no long-term guarantees when they were hired, but news of their impending layoffs has been tough for 12 firefighters.

All are in their 20s and 30s, they have served with the Lorain Fire Department for less than two years. But it’s been long enough to confirm their belief that the job is a labor of love, four of the firefighters said Sunday. They spoke of the excitement of fighting fires, the camaraderie among firefighters and the satisfaction that comes from saving lives and property.

“Not everybody can do it, and it’s something we all enjoy through and through,” firefighter Anthony Rodriguez said. “You never know what you’re going to get on a daily basis, the adrenaline rush (and) being able to help somebody in their time of need.”

More photos below.

Some of the firefighters on the list like Rodriguez, a reservist with the Ohio Air National Guard, have military backgrounds. Others have firefighting in their blood.

Firefighters John Crum, Patrick Mackey and Jon Stephanchick are among those on the list who have relatives who are firefighters or retired firefighters. Crum said his father was a volunteer firefighter who encouraged him to try firefighting and Crum said he fell in love the job.

“It doesn’t really feel like work,” he said.

The firefighters were paid with a two-year, $1.73 million federal taxpayer grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which expires March 17. They are the latest public workers to be casualties of the weak economic recovery and efforts to reduce the nation’s approximately $1 trillion deficit and $16.5 trillion national debt. Between June 2009, the end of the Great Recession, through January, 725,000 public workers have been laid off, according to the liberal Economic Policy Institute which relied on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.

City officials and firefighters expected the grant would be renewed, and Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the rejection may be due to $85 billion in across-the-board federal budget cuts slated to begin next week if a compromise budget agreement isn’t worked out. With Congressional Republicans threatening to allow the government to default in 2011, President Barack Obama agreed to the sequestration cuts, which he and Republican leaders have criticized as overly broad.

While cutting the deficit may sound good on paper, fire Capt. Tom Baker said deficit hawks may not understand the effect of the cuts. The cuts likely will mean the closing of one fire station and possibly two for the 82-member department.

Ritenauer said last week that Lorain County must explore regionalized firefighting to cope with austerity and maximize dwindling resources. In the short term, Baker said response times — which average between three to five minutes in the 24-square-mile city — will increase and residents may be endangered.

“There’s going to be more damage, higher dollar losses and ultimately, the potential of loss of life,” he said. “That’s why fire stations are placed strategically throughout the city.”

Baker, a Lorain firefighter since 1988, noted that the increased use of plastics over the last generation causes fires to burn faster and hotter. There is often much downtime between fighting fires, public education, safety inspections and training, but things can get busy fast.

In an approximately 90-minute period early Sunday, firefighters responded to three house fires and a mattress fire around the city. “People call us because they don’t know who else to call, and if nobody’s there … ” Baker said.

Baker also spoke of the human factor. Some of the firefighters have families and face financial hardship. Rodriguez, 26, is the father of three young children. Rodriguez and his colleagues said they’re uncertain about their futures but hope to continue as firefighters even if it can’t be in Lorain.

“You get addicted to it,” Stephanchick said about the rush of fighting fires. “I could never survive in an office job.”

Jobs extinguished

Twelve firefighters are scheduled to be laid off March 17 due to the expiration of a two-year, $1.73 million federal taxpayer grant.

  • Ryan Bowers, 29, U.S. Army Iraq War combat veteran and graduate of Heidelberg University, where he received a business degree.
  • Sean Callaghan, 24, emergency medical technician and graduate of Elon University in North Carolina where he received an accounting degree.
  • Jeff Cerny, 26, a paramedic who previously worked at Southwest General Hospital.
  • Alex Cieslak, 25, served six years as a firefighter in the Ohio Air National Guard.
  • Chris Conrad, 33, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and former state of Ohio employee.
  • John Crum, 29, an emergency medical technician who previously worked for the Eaton Township and Sheffield Village fire departments.
  • Eric Kelley, 34, a paramedic and graduate of the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business.
  • Patrick Mackey, 24, an emergency medical technician who is training to become a paramedic.
  • Mark Obran, 25, a paramedic and former LifeCare Ambulance employee.
  • Anthony Rodriguez, 26, a reservist with the Ohio Air National Guard.
  • Kyle Schreiber, 28, paramedic and U.S. Army combat veteran.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

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