Fire layoffs come under fire

Most of the dozen speakers at Monday’s special City Council meeting urged Evanston aldermen to cancel planned firefighter layoffs. 

Most of the dozen speakers at Monday’s special City Council meeting urged Evanston aldermen to cancel planned firefighter layoffs. 

Brendan Collins and Megan Kamarchevakul, two of the firefighters scheduled to be laid off July 31, stand in front of the portraits of former Evanston mayors outside the City Council chamber.

Peter Butterfield, 1008 Judson St., said Evanston firefighters saved his life about five years ago with "incredible professionalism" when he was in complete respiratory failure. He said "there have got to be other things" to cut.

"With layoffs, there will be a ripple effect felt," said Highland Park firefighter and Evanston resident Bill Brennan. "There will be a day when minutes are needed most, there will be a delay in the fire service arriving, and as a citizen here in Evanston I don’t think that gamble is acceptable."

Funeral director Nathan Haliburton said he wouldn’t want to be in the city manager’s shoes to know what to cut, but as a citizen he would rather see money going to firefighters’ salaries than to other services, such as city trees.

But Jane Alexander Davis, of 1726 Leland Ave., said firefighters are far from the only city employees who’ve felt the sting of job cuts.

"You are one of many sections of Evanston’s government that have felt the pain," she said. "You are proposing your jobs are more important than others."

And Kevin O’Connor, of 1227-1/2 Isabella St., criticized the anti-layoff flier firefighters distributed over the weekend as "non-factual" and "fear-mongering."

The layoffs, to go into effect July 31, would cost the jobs of the city’s three most recently hired firefighters, Brendan Collins, Megan Kamarchevakul and Chris Weglarz. 

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city started contract talks with the union in December, but in April union leaders demanded some control over staffing levels — a concession the city was unwilling to make.

He said Interim Fire Chief Greg Klaiber asked to meet with the union again, but the union cancelled two sessions early in June and chose to go to arbitration.

Bobkiewicz said he decided to cut the three positions to cover costs the city might incur as a result of an arbitration decision, but said the city will continue to work with the union to reach a contract settlement.

Union president Brian Scott said that since the process of selecting an arbitrator hasn’t been completed, "the door is open" for direct talks with the city.

Scott said that he had hoped there would have been "open public discussion and even an open council vote" on the layoffs at Monday’s meeting.

"We’re disappointed that didn’t happen," Scott said, "but we still hold out hope that it could in the future."

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