East St. Louis Firefighter Layoffs Depend On Federal Grant

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East St. Louis Firefighters Take Safety Concerns to YouTube

The East St. Louis Firefighters Union, Local 23 is turning to YouTube to mount a campaign to save jobs.   The end of a federal FEMA grant in March could cause as many as 16 firefighter layoffs according to East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks.

The video shows dramatic fire footage from a helmet camera worn by an East St. Louis firefighter. It also points to vacant buildings that present fire hazards to nearby occupied homes and businesses.

As of Thursday afternoon nearly 55,000 hits were recorded on the East St. Louis fire video.  Firefighters hope citizens will contact East St. Louis political leaders and demand full staffing of the department.

Mayor Parks and Fire Chief Jason Blackmon plan to apply for a new federal grant under the SAFER program (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) but the paper work can't be turned in until April.

Federal budget troubles could impact the release of funds for the grants.

Parks said the current East St. Louis 2013 budget calls for 37 fire department positions, down from the current 53.  He says economic hard times have hurt city revenue.

Firefighter Union president Capt. Brandon Walls questions why the city  hasn't prepared for the end of the federal grant.  "Safety is our biggest issue. We fight fires with the minimum of crews almost skeleton crews so to lose any amount of men let alone 22 is real hard on us to maintain the safety for the community and ourselves," said Walls.

Chief Blackmon said the city will maintain community safety.  "I can understand the union being proactive because the grant is about to end and they need a sense of direction about where the department is going," he added.

Blackmon said the city's fire insurance safety rating has improved and will be raised in April following the addition of a fire department training officer and the donation of an additional ladder truck purchased by the Casino Queen.

To look at the YouTube video go to http://youtu.be/OKKY7jU0eEA

On Twitter  Betsey Bruce


Viral Video Sheds Light On East St. Louis Firefighters’ Struggle