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State cannot cut Atlantic City Fire Department, judge rules

Cutting Atlantic City’s firefighting personnel to the levels the state has asked for would cause irreparable harm and endanger public safety, an Atlantic County judge ruled.
Judge Julio Mendez previously placed an injunction on any reduction to the Fire Department as the case goes through the court. The state wanted to cut the department to 148 with a goal of 124.
But anything below 180 would endanger residents, Mendez said Friday as he denied the state’s attempt to have him set aside the injunction.
He also ordered the state to work with the department and the city to get extend the federal grant that currently pays for almost 80 firefighters.
Mayor Don Guardian called the ruling a victory for the city.
“Judge Mendez rightfully saw through the draconian attempts by the state of New Jersey to unlawfully decimate our Fire Department,” he said. “If the proposed cuts were forced upon us … they would have left Atlantic City residents and businesses unprotected.”
He said they had argued for months that the proposed numbers were not safe.
“The men and women of the Atlantic City Fire Department work hard day in and day out to protect us,” Guardian said. “Today, the court worked hard to protect them from the state of New Jersey.”
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo noted that he and the late state Sen. Jim Whelan openly supported the move in court.
The Fire Department “has already been cut to the bone, taken salary cuts, health care cuts, education cuts, and have been asked to work 20 hours more a week,” he said in a statement. “Now the state wants to cut their numbers, drastically. As I’ve said from the beginning, this is a public safety issue, and we can’t jeopardize the safety of our residents, visitors and businesses. The intent of state intervention was the fix the fiscal mess of Atlantic City, not put people’s lives in harm’s way with understaffed and overworked public safety departments.”
Atlantic City Fire Chief Scott Evans was happy to hear of the ruling, but said he wanted a chance to read over the whole thing before commenting.

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This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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