Laid off Gulfport firefighters voice their concerns

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - On this Labor Day, former Gulfport firefighters Joe Ing and Tony Knight wonder what the future holds for them after being laid off.

Ing was planning on retiring next March after 30 years of service. Knight was hired three years ago after a career in the military. Both have received numerous awards for their dedicated service over the years.

Knight is angry.

"I've pretty much given everything I have to the city," Knight said. "I've worked with the city for large fires, natural disasters, I was here for Gustav in the emergency operations center. And the loss of the job, it just feels like I was just tossed away after all that time."

Ing's job was multi-faceted, but building inspection was his primary task. If that isn't done, he said the city's fire rating could suffer.

"When it comes to the state rating bureau, when they find out that we're not doing our inspections on these buildings and things like that, it's going to hurt us," Ing said.

While it's understandable that both men are upset about losing their jobs, what upsets them even more is what they say is the real possibility of fire safety problems facing the city of Gulfport in the wake of these cutbacks and layoffs. Ing believes people's lives could be put in danger.

"It's not only jeopardizing firefighters lives, because you cannot use two men on a fire truck to go fight a fire. But it may entail not being able to get somebody of the house until another truck arrives."

Ing will be able to draw retirement to make ends meet, but Knight's future path may send him far from home.

"That's a good question," Knight said.  "I'm a single income family. My income is the only income that my family has.  Right now, I have a one or two local prospects that are promising, but if those don't pan out, I'm looking at contract firefighting in Iraq or Afghanistan."

In addition to the layoffs, several positions in the department remain unfilled, and most firefighters have had their overtime pay reduced or eliminated.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.