Firefighters Picket To Protest Cuts

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WILKES-BARRE -- Firefighters took to the streets Tuesday to protest layoffs meant to close a budget gap.

Taking their fight to city hall, unionized firefighters picketed to say that Wilkes-Barre is hurt by firefighter layoffs.

About two dozen protesters began picketing around 8:30 a.m. saying the city is no longer a safe place.

Walking around city hall, the firefighters are trying to urge city residents to pressure the mayor into rehiring the 11 firefighters who lost their jobs December 1.

Eddie Smith is one of the firefighters. He was at the protest with his wife Tracy and daughter Sidney. Smith called the last few days stressful.

"Just wondering if we're going to get our jobs back, how to pay for health care for the kids."

Smith has been a firefighter for 11 years. He said his future plans are to "take it as it comes."

The fire chief is in the middle of the dispute. Jay Delaney declined an on-camera interview and said he does not support the cutbacks but will take whatever the city gives him and try to keep residents safe.

Firefighters' union vice president Greg Frietas said he doesn't believe that can happen.

"As far as I'm concerned, and I'm not saying this to scare people, I don't feel the numbers are at a safe level."

The mayor disagrees, saying Wilkes-Barre residents are safe. Mayor Tom Leighton blames the city's problems on with the city's former tax collection agency. The city is still owed more than $1 million.

Leighton said the minimum staffing of 11 firefighters per shift will be maintained.

"We have great firefighters. I respect the job they do. We provide them with state of the art firefighting equipment and they'll do the best they can."

Leighton added that he is working to make the layoffs as short as possible, but there are no guarantees.

Wilkes-Barre firefighters were not the only ones at the protest. Firefighter Andy Mhley came from Hazleton.

"Sometimes the politicians don't realize how fast a fire moves and how many people you need at a fire scene to get the job done."

The city of Wilkes-Barre currently spends about $9 million a year on fire protection.

The mayor said that the current budget situation could lead to a restructuring of fire fighting in the Wilkes-Barre area, involving paid and volunteer firefighters.