Laid-off Workers Reflect On Loss

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, April 12, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Justin McDaniel always had the goal of becoming a firefighter, but his dream was to become a Hampton firefighter.

The Winnacunnet High graduate achieved that dream three years ago.

But now, McDaniel, along with firefighters Jeremey Timson, Shana Clark and secretary Robin Arsenault, has been laid off as selectmen sought to get town spending in line with a $23 million default budget.

Dave Lang, spokes-man for the firefighters' unions in Hampton, said the four have become pawns in a political battle between selectmen and townspeople who voted for the default budget.

"These are casualties in a political battle," said Lang. "If, in fact, the Board of Selectmen had given the Fire Department the default budget that was advertised to the voters, it would have been 4 percent less than what was originally requested. The hard thing about this is there is money for their positions in the budget. That money is being spent somewhere else when the citizens spoke loud and clear when they said, 'Listen. We want the same as last year.'"

Standing behind the Firefighter Memorial outside station 2 on Friday, the four former town employees said they were devastated, but not bitter.

The hardest part about returning to the station, they said, is that they would normally be at work, doing what they love. Instead they were there to talk with a reporter.

Timson said he moved his family to Hampton because he wanted to work for the best fire department in the state.

"It's been devastating to be pulled away from our family of firefighters," said Timson. "It hurts to leave it all behind. We came here to try and do a good job for the town. I think it hurts even more because we all know the money is there. We don't understand why we all have to go."

For the first time in his career, he's without a job. His wife has returned to college and his daughter has just been accepted to Johnson & Wales University. He also has a son who goes to Marston School.

"Now I have to try and figure out how I'm going to pay for their college," said Timson. "Things have been so down right now, they are just trying to keep my head up and I'm trying to show them support at the same time."

McDaniel's wife is seven months pregnant with the couple's third child.

"I don't know what to think right now," said McDaniel. "I have concern for my family and for the family that I have been a part of for the last three years. I have a concern for the safety for the community as a whole. This department could use four more firefighters, not four less."

Clark, the first woman to join the Hampton Fire Department, was one test away from accomplishing her goal to become a paramedic. The town has invested $15,000 worth of training in her to accomplish that goal.

While she is a test away from becoming a paramedic, she won't be able to be one in the place that she has worked for the last three years.

"It's all kind of a shock," said Clark. "My group is actually working today. It's hard to sit here knowing that they are out there."

All three said the thing they worry the most about is not themselves but the impact the loss of their positions will have for the town.

"When you start talking about people's lives and safety, you're talking about something serious," said McDaniel. "I can't believe the measures that we're taking. Public safety is an insurance plan that no city and town can be without. You may not use them everyday, but when you need them ..."

Timson said Hampton is understaffed as it is.

He said they receive a similar number of calls each year that Nashua receives. The only difference is Nashua has eight stations and 175 firefighters.

Hampton only has two stations and about 40 firefighters.

"Like Justin said, we need more firefighters, not less," said Timson. "We were understaffed as it was."

Lang said the town is losing three extraordinary firefighters.

"This isn't about politics," said Lang. "This is about public safety. The Board of Selectmen didn't spend one minute talking about the impact it would have on the department of losing four firefighters on the line or the impact of losing a secretary in the fire prevention office."

Timson said it has been hard saying goodbye to his fellow firefighters.

"I can't explain what firehouse life is," said Timson. "It's very difficult unless you have experienced it. We have cried together, bled together and we'd be willing to do anything together, including paying the ultimate sacrifice if it was in the best interest of this town or each other."

"You talk to any firefighter and they will mention the word brotherhood," said McDaniel. "We are big family. There is bond. I spend more time with this group of firefighters than I do my own family. I could not imagine someone taking my family away."

Clark said she remembers her first day on the job when she took the oath in the town offices.

"When I stood in the town office and took the oath, I fully expected to retire here," said Clark.

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