12 firefighters to be laid off at NY station once grant expires

With a third grant a long shot, the Newburgh Fire Department is preparing to lay off 12 firefighters when the current award money runs out at the end of July

By Leonard Sparks
Times Herald-Record

NEWBURGH, N.Y. — Jim Moore is nervous, and Chris Baum worries about supporting his wife, young daughter and a mortgage.

Matt Gayton thinks about it every day.

"I tried for a long time to get on this job, and when the call came last year, I was so excited," Gayton said. "It took me a long time; I took a lot of tests."

Each man waited years for the call inviting them to become City of Newburgh firefighters, and each readily quit jobs to fulfill their long-held dreams of helping others.

Now, time is running out on those brief dreams and the friendships the firefighters have formed.

Baum, Gayton and Moore are among the last Newburgh firefighters hired with a two-year federal grant that covers the salaries and benefits of new personnel for short-staffed departments, with the expectation that the municipality would take over those costs once the grant ran out.

Twice, Newburgh has received the grant, with the second award coming just as the city was preparing to lay off 10 firefighters hired with the first award.

With a third grant a long shot, the fire department is preparing to lay off 12 firefighters when the current award money runs out at the end of July.

"Hopefully it plays out and I can stay here," said Moore, who last year earned media attention when he and another firefighter adopted a severely burned pit bull puppy rescued from a fire on First Street.

"The relationships I've formed -- friendships, brotherhood. These guys will do anything for you."

Newburgh officials cheered in September 2013 when Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand, and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had given Newburgh $2.4 million to hire 15 new firefighters, raising its personnel level to 70.

Awarded through FEMA's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, the grant was to fund extra manpower meant to improve safety by adding one more firefighter to each truck and allowing for quicker deployment of hoses and ladders at fire scenes.

When the city's ability to take over the costs of the extra firefighters did not materialize as the first grant expired, Maloney and other elected officials successfully lobbied FEMA for a second grant worth $2 million to prevent mass layoffs.

A third grant is unlikely, acting Chief Terry Ahlers said.

"The last batch of men that we hired, everybody that we interviewed, we told them that this is on a grant, there's very little chance that it's going to get renewed (and) the city may not have the money to keep you," he said.

'Dream job'

Moore had been waiting almost four years to become a firefighter and was working as a trash collector for the Village of Cornwall when Newburgh called with a job offer in March 2016.

One of his father's best friends was a firefighter. He called it his "dream job."

"Kind of didn't believe it at first," Moore said of the call. "I was excited for what I had to look forward to as a career."

Baum and Gayton were contacted in September 2016.

Gayton was then working as a laborer with Newburgh's public works department and Baum as a plant utilities engineer for the Rockland Psychiatric Center.

Baum, whose grandfather was a New York City firefighter, was called on a Monday about an opening and asked to report to the academy four days later.

"I told my boss, I can't turn it down. He understood," Baum said.

Baum is now worried about how he will support his wife and 1-year-old daughter. Like Gayton, he is also a City of Newburgh homeowner.

Baum bought a house in Newburgh nearly four years ago, drawn by bargain prices.

Copyright 2018 Times Herald-Record

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