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Firefighters, police return from layoffs


3 officers find duty elsewhere

Martin Luttrell
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF


WORCESTER- Police and firefighters laid off in April because of budget cuts were brought back into service beginning Sunday, using $1.8 million in free cash left from the last fiscal year.

All 20 firefighters and 17 of the 20 police officers cut in the spring were returned to duty, police and fire officials said.

Of the three not brought back, two police officers went to work in Hopedale and Wellesley during the layoff, and their return will depend on complying with Civil Service regulations, Sgt. Philip S. Riordan said. Another officer is deployed with the Air National Guard, he said.

Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio said the first shift of firefighters returned Sunday. "It feels good. It helps our numbers and it's better for the city as a whole," he said.

"We have young firefighters back on the trucks. None left for other departments. We have very few who leave this town. We have a lot of pride," he said.

The Fire Department will still have to operate without two clerical personnel and a shop employee who helped maintain the department's 30 trucks and 35 cars, he said.

Yesterday, police officers were beginning two days of in-service training in first aid, CPR and firearms qualification they missed during the layoff.

Officer Jason E. Fanion, 29, said the uncertainty of returning to the force had him considering employment with another department, at least temporarily.

"Everyone has a family," he said yesterday, sitting outside the training room. "I had a couple of departments I was interested in, but I wanted to stay here."

There were openings in several departments around the state, but most would have required commutes of an hour or longer, he said.

"I was forced to get private health insurance. It's costly. I'm glad this was only four months.

"Everyone thinks this is a pretty secure job. But in 1991 this happened, so the precedent is there. And now it happened again. I'm glad to be back. I like going to work and I like the people I work with. That makes a lot of difference," he said.

Officer Fanion said he spent much of his layoff caring for his year-old daughter while his wife worked.

Officer Michael Luong said he was happy to be back, but upset that public safety personnel were cut to begin with.

"Morale is better now that we're going back," said Officer Luong, 33. "We're a tight-knit group. We're glad to be back doing what we were trained for."

The 20 officers let go in April were part of the class of 29 who graduated from the department's last academy in 2001.

"We're still down in numbers," Officer Luong said. "For a city this size, we should have 400 patrol officers."

Patrolmen's union vice president Anthony M. Petrone agreed, saying that the department has steadily lost positions through attrition since 1999, when there were 392 officers. There are about 350 now, he said.

"There's no doubt about it. We're excited they're coming back to work," he said. "Their coming back is great, but it's a small sliver of where we need to be. We will push the city administration to go forward with another (academy) class."
 
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