I have been living in New London for 35 years. During that time I spent more than 20 years working as a welder at Electric Boat, before receiving a layoff slip in 1995. I know all too well what it feels like to be laid off. You have a nice job, you purchase a home, your children are born and you think you have it all figured out - and then it comes.
Before my election to the state legislature, I served six years on the New London City Council, including a year as deputy mayor and one as mayor. In all my service to this city I have not seen layoff slips go out to the fire and police departments. Public safety is the one area in which the citizens of New London cannot afford to see anyone laid off.
New London has the most highly trained firefighters and police officers in southeastern Connecticut, if not the entire state. I remember an incident that happened to my mother while visiting me from North Carolina. During a visit at my sister's house she suffered a stroke. I remember walking to the end of my sister's driveway, at the top of Town Hill, to call 911. I listened as the engine and the sirens started up from the Bank Street fire station, arriving in less than five minutes. To some that may not seem like a big deal, but for someone facing an emergency, time is of the essence. I do not want to entertain the idea that New London fire and police departments must operate understaffed.
New London has three fire stations staffed around the clock. That's the way it should be and should stay. Our firefighters do an excellent job on behalf of New London's citizens. The city, in fact, is not even at full staffing levels now. Instead of laying off, the administration should be concentrating on filling vacant positions. There are people who say these layoffs will not jeopardize public safety. I am not buying it. No New London citizen should be the test case for why we need these public safety personnel on the job.
Layoff notices also went out to city police officers. How can the administration even consider laying off police officers? There are many things New London can do without, but firefighters and police officers are not among them
I go to sleep every night around 11:30, just as another group of people get up with the job of confronting criminal activity. Just read the police logs published by The Day and theday.com.
Also troubling is the reality that if these officers are laid off, they will be picked up by other police departments throughout the state, the training New London provided and paid for benefitting others. What, do you think these officers are going to sit around and wait on New London to finish playing games with their lives? No, they will do what's best for their families. They face mortgages, car payments, tuition or the need to save for college.
When they are gone, city leaders will eventually come to their senses and hire more police, putting money in the budget to train them. But in the meantime, public safety in New London will be compromised.
Sometimes politics gets in the way of common sense.
The administration needs to stop, think about what it is doing, get the council, other city leaders and department heads in one room and figure out how to fix the fiscal problems and stop using public safety workers as pawns.
Ernest Hewett, a Democrat, is the state representative from New London.