Rialto firefighters picket over proposed layoffs

RIALTO, Calif.

Firefighters in the city of Rialto are waging a battle to save jobs. Outside Rialto City Hall Tuesday, off-duty firefighters and their families picketed to inform residents about coming layoffs.

"We're not here to have raises or anything like that," said Rialto firefighter Abel Castaneda. "We are just here to maintain our jobs. That's the bottom line."

The city is proposing to lay off four firefighters and another six later down the line. The decision came after informal negotiations broke off last week.

"The meeting blew up. It had a very poor ending, but it hit us out of nowhere," said Nash Briones, president, Rialto Professional Firefighters Local 3688.

Briones says the department is already stretched to the limit, with just 55 firemen and women on staff. The cuts would reduce personnel to just 44.

"The economy is taking a hit and we understand that, we have to take a hit through concessions. However we are already short-staffed, and you continue to shorten or take personnel away, it's going to jeopardize our safety as firefighters," said Theresa Rivera, a Rialto firefighter and paramedic.

Firefighters say the layoff would not only put them at greater risk for injury, but also increase their response times to emergency calls.

Longtime Rialto resident James Isaac says he is worried.

"We have such a dry season here that everything is just almost like gasoline," said Isaac. "It don't take but a spark and - boom - everything goes up. So we really need more firemen and policemen instead of laying off."

The city says it has no other choice but to lay off a total of 30 employees citywide.

Still, nothing is final. A city council meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night to discuss the current budget.

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