New London firefighters take to the streets in protest

City of New London firefighters and supporters stand with signs on State Street in front of the Crocker House and across from City Hall Monday, June 4, 2012, to protest proposed layoffs.
City of New London firefighters and supporters stand with signs on State Street in front of the Crocker House and across from City Hall Monday, June 4, 2012, to protest proposed layoffs. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

New LondonFirefighters demonstrated throughout the city Monday morning because they say an opinion piece by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio that ran in The Day Sunday misinforms the public about the safety needs of the city.

In the article Finizio compared the fire needs and services of New London to those of surrounding towns such as Waterford and East Lyme.

The firefighters also lined the walkway to City Hall Monday night and many attended the City Council meeting wear dark blue T-shirts opposing the cuts in the department personnel.

Twenty-five of the department's 66 active firefighters recently received pink slips informing them their last day on the job would be June 30. There are also six vacancies in the department.

"This is a public campaign that is messing with people's lives," firefighter Michael Leonard told the council.

"We don't sleep while we're working and then we go home and we can't sleep because our jobs are on the line. The mayor is playing games with people's lives.''

Earlier in the day, Battalion Chief Keith Nichols, who was standing across the street from City Hall holding a sign that read, "Compare this facility to other surrounding 'larger communities,'" said New London is densely populated with older structures.

Nichols said city firefighters often have to climb several stories to get to a fire or an emergency. He noted that there are dozens of building in the downtown area alone. Nearby towns, he said, don't have this infrastructure.

"It would be absolutely devastating to the fire department and to the city if we lose these jobs," said Nichols.

He said the fire department has to protect several colleges, a hospital and the United States Coast Guard Academy. "Other towns don't have to contend with that," he added.

Resident Peter Lynch was also standing with four other firefighters outside City Hall.

"This is an urban community," said Lynch. "We need fire protection. We can't afford not to have this protection."

Finizio could not be reached to comment.

Those who would lose their jobs include veteran firefighters who have been with the department for more than 12 years and the city's latest hire, Al Mayo, who had a tumultuous hiring process during the past six months but is now the first black firefighter hired by the city in more than 30 years.

Ten police officers also received layoff notices.

The City Council last week approved for the third time an $83 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which would require an 8 percent increase in the tax rate.

Rocco Basilica, president of the New London firefighters union, said firefighters were standing at sites throughout the city Monday morning, including Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, the Coast Guard Academy and 202 Colman St., an apartment building that is home to many elderly people.

"We are trying to educate the public about what these cuts really mean," said Basilica. "The budget that we have supports the whole fire department and yet we still have 25 layoffs on the table."

i.larraneta@theday.com

City of New London firefighter Steve Joly, left, and Lt. Jeffrey Rheaume, give a thumbs-up to a passing motorist who honked as they and supporters stand with signs on State Street in front of the Crocker House and across from City Hall Monday, June 4, 2012, to protest proposed layoffs.
City of New London firefighter Steve Joly, left, and Lt. Jeffrey Rheaume, give a thumbs-up to a passing motorist who honked as they and supporters stand with signs on State Street in front of the Crocker House and across from City Hall Monday, June 4, 2012, to protest proposed layoffs. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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