IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- People living in Immokalee are rallying around their firefighters. Six were laid off last week. Tuesday night firefighters said the board voted with only half of the members present and some firefighters found out they lost their jobs via Facebook.
It was a packed house inside an emergency budget meeting at the Immokalee Fire House. Firefighters said the board acted too quickly but the board said they don't have enough money to even make it through the next fiscal year.
"Unfortunately you all have failed my community. You all are supposed to be the ones to oversee this place and also to make a decision so rapidly and so fast, its ridiculous," said Larry Wilcoxson, an Immokalee resident.
It was a message that the board for the Immokalee Fire Control District heard loud and clear after firefighters and residents spoke out at an emergency budget meeting that had standing room only.
"It was your job to watch those numbers. It was your job every month to see where the numbers were at," said Eloy Ricardo, a North Naples firefighter.
Six chairs at the front of the meeting sat empty with bunker gear and helmets representing the six firefighters, including the chief, laid off last week.
"Not a single one of them received a phone call advising them that they were laid off. One of the firefighters found out about his layoff on Facebook," said Tom Cunningham, president, Firefighters of Immokalee #4657.
The district blames budget shortfalls. They closed station 31 last week and said it will save $91,000.
"Effectively we will not have enough money to run the fire department until the end of the year," said Pam Brown, president, Immokalee Fire Control District.
The board said if they had the money they'd bring the six back to work.
"How do you fix this?" said Genevieve Judge, WINK News reporter.
"Hey, we cant even fix our county government and our state government and our federal government. So hopefully we're just going to plan and try to work together as a team here with the board and with the firefighters and see what we can come up with," said Brown.
During the meeting, some firefighters offered ending their own career to save others.
"Put one of these younger guys in here that has a family to support. I'm willing to go ahead and do a buyout right now," said Jerry Heath, an Immokalee firefighter for 21 years.
No action was taken at the meeting. The board is waiting to hear from a union member, who is a fire inspector, to find out if their attorney wants to cut her job or keep a firefighter.
The firefighters that were laid off last week will continue to get paid and receive benefits through May 31. After that an executive session will be held either June 1 or 2, where union negations will begin.