By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — By the end of the month, the city fire department’s roster will be back at near-peak levels courtesy of a federal grant.
Taylor Fire Chief Bob Tompos said that beginning Sept. 17 the department will bring back staff laid off last year due to budget cuts.
“That should return everyone to where we were before,” Tompos said. Department staffing will be at the highest levels in three years, Tompos said, with 54 full-time firefighters spread out over three shifts.
With a restored roster, Tompos said the city’s two dormant fire stations will return to service; as with recalling laid off firefighters the department will proceed with caution.
“We will make sure we’re operational at the level we should be at,” Tompos said. “We hope to have everything ready; the mayor wants it done right.”
Bringing the department back to near-peak staffing didn’t come easy. Last year’s layoffs of 32 firefighters — and other city staff — prompted disputes among city council members, an attempted recall of Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand, and a grant application and approval that resulted in the council and mayor squaring off in court.
Earlier this year, Tompos applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration in the form of a $1.8 million staffing grant. Lamarand initially declined the funds, which he said would have jeopardized a city deficit-reduction budget mandated by the state.
Negotiations and concessions made by fire union officials cleared the way for acceptance of the grant; Tompos said the priority now is to ensure that the department moves forward with a clearly defined vision.
“We look forward to becoming a newly professional fire department,” Tompos said. Involvement with Emergency Medical Services will be minimal — that aspect was privatized during last year’s budget adjustments — and the fully-staffed department will readjust its purpose.
“We’ll revisit some things we haven’t done right in the past,” Tompos said. “We’ll get more involved in the community, both with the citizens and businesses, inspect fire hydrants, run smoke detector programs and get back in the schools.”
Tompos said the past
year took its toll on the department and firefighters, as it did a city wrestling with budget shortfalls. Negotiations, grants and a refined mission paved the way for a new era to begin.
“There were things that needed to be addressed,” Tompos said. “You can’t squeeze blood out of a stone. The city was hemorrhaging money. We did what we could to make it work; now our job is to make sure we did it right.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)