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Police, fire departments brace for layoffs

Posted by Matt Byrne  August 2, 2010 01:00 PM

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Ten Malden firefighters and about as many police officers are expected to be laid off as early as this week, fire and police officials said. The nearly two dozen public safety positions are the latest casualty in a protracted dispute over health benefits for both departments’ unions.

The officers who are set to lose their jobs will go before a civil service panel Wednesday to air their concerns before the cost-cutting layoffs are finalized, said Michael Murphy, Chief of the Malden Fire Department.

Murphy said the department will eliminate Engine 4, stationed at Overlook Ridge Drive, leaving the city with only three pump trucks. The closure also forces the demotion of the two lieutenants previously in command of the engine, Murphy said.

“Nobody is going to be as safe. The more help we have, the better job that we can do. You take 25 percent of our first-response pumps out of service, and we can’t supply the same service that we could before,” he said.

The Police Department is set to lay off about as many officers. Although the exact number of badges on the line is unknown, Mayor Richard C. Howard has threatened to lay off between 13 and 16 officers.

The layoffs come weeks after the three public safety unions representing police superior officers, patrolmen, and firefighters each rejected a city health care plan that would have avoided job losses in exchange for higher out-of-pocket costs and co-pays for the members and their families.

“We’ve come to a conclusion in all of [the negotiations], I think, and they’ve staked out their position, and they’re not interested in accepting this proposal we’ve put forward,” Howard said in a previous interview. “So we’ll take the steps we have to take to have the budget balanced.”

The cuts also will force the city to give back at least one federal grant because the fire department no longer meets the minimum staffing level required to receive the money. Murphy said the layoffs will prohibit him from spending $700,000 in grant money that could have paid for six salaries.

While the cuts are painful, Howard said in a previous interview that both unions made their positions clear. At least one vote by the police superior officers' union was split 14-13, with the majority opposing the adoption of the city health plan, Howard said.

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