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Mass. layoffs force fire station to close or lose engine

FITCHBURG, Mass. Looming layoffs will either force the fire chief to close the Summer Street fire station or pull an engine from the central fire station.

The department currently has one ladder and four engines: one at Summer Street, one at the Oak Hill station, and two at the central station. But the department will lose an engine after five layoffs and four retirements go into effect this Sunday, Fire Chief Kevin Roy said.

Roy reiterated Tuesday what he said during the fire department's budget hearing with the city council Monday night.

"It's a distressing budget," he said. "I've never seen anything like this."

But he is hopeful he'll be able to save the jobs of the five firefighters slated for layoffs by starting a city-run ambulance. Fitchburg currently contracts out for three ambulances, Roy said.

He's proposing that the fire department run one ambulance and still contract out the other two.

"We've met with four companies that gave us good proposals, and narrowed it down to two companies," Roy said. He met with the firefighters' union Monday, and is now waiting to hear the union's reaction to the idea of an ambulance.

"I think if the union agreed, we could get this up and running in a few weeks," Roy said. Fitchburg ran its own ambulance until the mid-1980s, and several committees in recent years have studied the feasibility of reviving the city-run ambulance.

Ward 2 Councilor Norm Boisvert said Tuesday that councilors need more information to "find out if it's is really something that's going to pay off."

But Roy said he is "99 percent sure" the ambulance could generate enough money to keep the five firefighters, who would man the ambulance but also be prepared to respond to fire calls.

The department will still lose the fourth engine even if these firefighters kept their jobs, the chief said.

"The engine's gone one way or another. The laid-off people would be on the ambulance; that's what allows us to run the ambulance," Roy said.

Councilors did not vote to make any further cuts to the fire department's budget during their meeting Monday night.

"I think their budget is tight enough as it is," Boisvert said Tuesday. "We really need more equipment. It's a shame that we're losing firefighters. To cut anymore would mean we'd probably lose another firefighter or two, and we really can't afford that."

Councilors at Tuesday night's meeting voted to keep Roy's salary at its current level, keeping with similiar actions taken with other department heads' salaries.

Roy was slated to receive a $3,700 raise -- from $90,463 to $94,169 -- in the mayor's version of the budget for fiscal year 2008.

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