Firefighters hopes for secure future snuffed
T.J. Murphy took a job with the W-B Fire Department in 2010 after working for Dunmore.
Thomas Murphy is one of the 11 firefighters who were laid off from the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department in December. He and his family are coping with tough times as a result. Murphy has been with the department since 2010 but a professional firefighter for 12 years.
WIKES-BARRE It' easy to tell what T.J. Murphy' dad did for a living by looking at the toys around their house.
A red fire station with a bell tower was tucked in one corner of the TV room. An inflatable firetruck big enough for the 2-year-old boy to sit in sat in another room.
No one was ringing the bell and or making siren noises in the truck Thursday morning. The silence sounded like what Tom Murphy was hearing about when he would be called back to work as a Wilkes-Barre firefighter.
The 36-year-old Murphy was one of the 11 firefighters laid off on Dec. 1 so the city could cut expenses and deal with an estimated $2 million revenue shortfall. The budget for 2013 raised taxes to include wages and benefits for the furloughed firefighters, but they haven't been called back.
Murphy and his wife, Kim, have cut their spending and as the two-month mark without full-time employment approached, they worried about paying their bills with unemployment compensation and the money earned from the part-time jobs.
It's going to be close, Murphy said.
They made sure their son had Christmas presents at their expense. He and his wife didn't exchange gifts for the holiday.
They had good jobs when they moved to their Grebe Street house from Roaring Brook Township after he was hired as a city firefighter in 2010. Murphy was required to live in the city and had no qualms about paying taxes where he worked.
Shaky finances in Dunmore where he was a firefighter concerned him enough to look elsewhere for work.
I came down here and tested, Murphy said. He passed and joined the department, thinking, At least I have job security now, he said.
Little did I know.
Since the move, his wife lost her full-time job, significantly cutting their earnings. She works part-time and so does Murphy. They've also had a lot of family support.
He and I have always been go-getters, she said.
They're trying to comprehend the turn around of their lives in the last few weeks. At this point, it's like, What happened? she said.
Within a matter of three days, Murphy was out of work from the job he enjoyed and took pride in. His union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104, chose the layoffs by seniority. The Iraqi war veteran had been a firefighter for 12 years; the last two in his new home town. He'd prefer to stay here and work rather than take another civil service test and start out at the bottom if he moved out of town.
Murphy's bitter about Mayor Tom Leighton's singling out the fire department for layoffs. The four Department of Works employees furloughed with the firefighters were called back to work before the end of the year.
He also spoke bluntly about what the cuts have done to the force and public safety. Fire engines are out of service due to the reduced force.
The firefighters are working overtime to muster a minimum of 11 per shift. They not only fight fires but also respond to emergency medical service calls. Murphy said he went on 10 EMS calls during his last shift.
It's just a matter of time, Murphy said. He's playing Russian roulette right now.
On top of the layoffs, six firefighters retired, including a fire inspector earlier this month, and their spots haven't been filled. The fire inspector is still in the 2013 budget.
Now we're down 17 guys which is one full shift, Murphy said.
The mayor has attempted to gain concessions from the firefighters and other unions representing city employees in order to bring back the laid-off firemen. He has not given a date for their return.