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New London — One third of the city's firefighters will lose their jobs at 5:30 this afternoon, leaving the department with 25 fewer workers.
"Simply put, it's a matter of politics. The City Council failed to act,'' Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said, as he faced dozens of firefighters and their supporters who booed, cursed, and kicked the doors outside City Council Chambers on Monday night.
Angry firefighters yelled at Finizio after he emerged from his office just before 10 p.m. to say the layoffs will remain in effect.
"We had faith in you,'' someone shouted at Finizio.
The City Council, just minutes before, failed to vote on an amended union contract that would have fended off the layoffs.
Finizo blamed the layoffs on councilors, who he said needed more time and information before voting on the union concessions, but when provided with the information, failed to act.
"This is a tragic result,'' he said. "But I believe in time it can be resolved."
"It doesn't matter what you do or say. He's going through with the layoffs,'' union President Rocco Basilica told the firefighters after a brief meeting with the mayor and Deputy Fire Chief Henry Kydd.
Several police officers responded to City Hall after the angry outbursts.
One firefighter vowed to wait for councilors to emerge and the police waited with him in the hallway. Outside City Hall, firefighters put signs they held at an earlier rally, including one reading "We Shall Overcome," on the windshield of the mayor's car. Several firefighters who will be laid off threw their bright yellow shirts with the number signifying their layoff position on the car as well.
One of the 25 losing their jobs is Alfred Mayo, the first minority hired by the city in 34 years. He had his head down and a fellow firefighter had his arm around his shoulders as he walked out of City Hall.
Battalion Chief Tom Curcio, whose son is among the 25 who will lose their jobs, said the department will need to fill seven vacancies for tonight's shift.
"It's going to affect the safety of the residents and the safety of our members,'' he said.
Earlier in the night, dozens of firefighters and their supporters crammed into City Council chambers and implored the council to approve the tentative agreement.
Ten firefighters spoke passionately about their love of the city and their commitment to their jobs.
But the council unanimously and with no comment voted to table to the matter after a motion was made by Councilor Donald Macrino. Council President Michael Passero, who is a firefighter, recused himself from the vote and was not in the room. Councilor Wade Hyslop was not at the meeting because he was sick.
Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran did not comment.
During response to public comment, Macrino and Councilor Anthony Nolan said they would vote for the amended contract.
Councilors Adam Sprecace and John Maynard both said they would not vote for the agreement because they needed more information. They said it was difficult for them to explain their position because City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan said the tentative agreement is confidential and cannot be discussed in public.
The Day disagrees with that decision and has filed an Freedom of Information complaint. However, The Day obtained a copy of the two-page agreement, signed June 20 by Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover and union President Rocco Basilica.
The agreement would save the 25 jobs and includes extending the firefighters' contract by three years with 2 percent raises in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The agreement also would reduce mandatory staffing levels from 18 to 16 per shift and would eliminate a 2¼ percent raise in July and a 2 percent raise in January. The workforce also would be cut by nine positions as they become vacant.
In return, the city would allow union members to shift their retirement from a 401(a) savings account to the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System and the city would make a $4 million contribution into the account.
Before Monday's meeting, close to 100 firefighters and their supporters rallied outside City Hall.
For those affected and their families, the reality was grim and daunting.
Amy Hynek said her 9-year-old son, Jeremy Hynek Jr., is worried that with lower staffing, his father, Jeremy Hynek Sr., will die in a fire.
"He hasn't slept for two weeks," Hynek said of her son, who wore a New London Fire Department T-shirt and carried a poster.
Many women in the crowd wore pink shirts with "The person I love would risk their life for you!" on the back. Supporters carried signs that read "The numbers don't lie" and "Stop the layoffs" on them. Curcio and Marc A. Melanson, two of the city's battalion chiefs, as well as Deputy Chief Kydd, attended the rally.
"It's going to affect the whole family for all these guys," said Todd Johnson, a 16-year veteran of the New London Fire Department who was eight positions away from being laid off. "The councilors don't understand the impact of layoffs on everyone. We'll be stuck in the fire house for 24 hours a day at a time."
Resident Anthony Little came to the 6 p.m. rally carrying two buckets full of water and a sign reading "Bucket Brigade" around his neck.
"How else are we going to fight fire if you guys go?" Little asked the crowd to a round of applause and cheers.
Firefighters from Fairfield to Meriden, Bristol and Groton, came to support their fellow firefighters as well. Tim Tepert, a lieutenant and 13-year veteran of the Norwich Fire Department, said firefighters with as much time on the job as he has are being threatened by the layoffs.
"I can't imagine having the rug pulled out from under you like that," Tepert said.