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Long Beach to lay off 5 firefighters Jan. 1 after SAFER federal grant expires

Jack Schnirman, City of Long Beach Manager is

Jack Schnirman, City of Long Beach Manager is shown in a photo taken in East Farmingdale on Oct. 22, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Beach is to lay off five firefighters Jan. 1 after a $900,000 federal grant expires at the end of this year.

The positions were filled using a 2012 grant through the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, known as SAFER. The $910,530 grant was secured by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) two years ago, but has not been renewed and is not open for the city to reapply.

City officials used the grant funding to rehire five firefighters who were laid off three months before superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012. The firefighters were told their positions were contingent on the grant, City Manager Jack Schnirman said.

Retaining the firefighters would cost the city $55,000 per month, totaling $660,000 a year, Schnirman said.

"We all knew this day could very well come. There's no surprise," Schnirman said. "We have no new grant to apply for. It creates an immediate problem."

The firefighters to be laid off have not been identified, but the cuts will be based on tenure, city officials said, adding that they offered to extend the five positions through mid-February, but the firefighters union declined the offer.

Long Beach and Garden City are the only departments on Long Island with paid firefighters. The layoffs will leave the city with 25 paid firefighters and about 150 volunteer firefighters, officials said. Shifts will continue to have five firefighters on duty, including three on each engine and two per ambulance. The city had 16 paid firefighters in 1991.

Long Beach Professional Firefighters union president Bill Piazza said the job cuts threaten public safety. "This will have an immediate negative impact on services we provide," he said. "I don't understand how you cut 16 percent of the workforce and not have an impact on our services."

Firefighters respond to about eight fires in the city each year. The majority of calls are for emergency medical services, according to city officials.

Schnirman and Long Beach Fire Commissioner Scott Kemins said residents won't see a change in response. "All this is doing is bringing us back to where we were in 2011 . . . and it won't affect public safety," he said.

Garden City officials approved layoffs last year to reduce that force to 31 paid firefighters. A Nassau County judge in April denied an injunction sought by the Garden City firefighters union.

Long Beach received a free ambulance from Nassau Health Care staffed with paramedics for use during summer 2013 after its hospital was destroyed by Sandy. The case is still being litigated.

Piazza said the layoff decision doesn't consider retirements that will reduce the number of paid firefighters to 22.

"The public should not be the ones to suffer from this," Piazza said. "These types of emergencies still exist, but with less personnel to respond, it's obviously going to affect how we can provide those services in a safe manner."

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