Small town desperately hoping to avert firefighter layoffs

HOQUIAM, Wash. -- Residents in this small coastal town are worrying about a decision they believe could be a matter of life or death.

"I think it's really scary. We depend on services like this every day," said homeowner Lorrie Lane, referring to the city's decision to lay off four of Hoquiam's 23 firefighters and paramedics. "Knowing that if something emergent happens we wouldn't have the coverage for what is needed, it's a scary thought."

City leaders say the fire department lost an important source of revenue after ambulance calls dropped sharply in 2013. The 10-percent decline means fewer billings. One likely explanation is there are fewer residents living in the area as a result of the sluggish economy.

But the firefighters' union and the city are still trying to find a solution that would avert the layoffs.

"I'm working on it!" said Ricky Walsh, Vice President of the International Association of Firefighters. The national union representative flew in to help the fire department in talks with the city.

"Layoffs are not a good thing for the citizens, and it's not a good thing for the fire department personnel," Walsh explained. "There are a certain amount of people we have to have on every incident to get the job done correctly, safely for our personnel, and to assure the best outcome for the citizen."

Firefighters say one has already been laid off and the the other three are coming up soon.

Firefighter union negotiators delivered a proposal to city hall Wednesday, which is a hopeful sign to residents like Lorrie Lane, who is cautiously optimistic.

"They're going to have to work together to make this happen," she said.